We have selected two U.S. Coast Guard rescuers to receive the Vice Admiral Thomas R. Sargent III Gold Medal this year.
Aviation Survival Technician First Class Matthew Silvious, of Air Station Clearwater, Fla., was the rescue swimmer aboard a Coast Guard helicopter that rescued two people aboard a sailboat foundering in the outer bands of the Category 4 Hurricane Irma Sep. 9, 2017. Aviation Survival Technician Third Class Brendan Kiley, of Air Station Cape Cod, Mass., was a helicopter rescue swimmer deployed with a crew to the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey, where they rescued 112 people and assisted an untold number more during a three-day period in August 2017.
Petty Officer Silvious is cited for his heroic achievement while serving as the rescue swimmer aboard Coast Guard helicopter CG-6007. Despite knowing refuel and emergency divert airfields were unavailable, he volunteered to fly 420 miles into Hurricane Irma to rescue two mariners from the sailing vessel On Caval as it foundered in the outer bands of the powerful storm.
Arriving on scene, he learned that one of the survivors had abandoned ship and was attempting to row a five-foot dingy to land. With near zero visibility, at night, in torrential rains and 45 to 60 knot winds, he deployed into the water to begin his rescue efforts. While being dragged by the helicopter as it fought to maintain position in the violent winds, he fought his way to the panicked survivor. Quickly realizing the dingy was on the verge of capsizing, he made a split-second decision to transfer the combative survivor into the water. Despite the extreme weather conditions and wildly struggling victim, he quickly employed the rescue strop to execute a safe hoist to the helicopter.
Racing against the strengthening storm and as fuel became critical, Petty Officer Silvious immediately redeployed to retrieve the second survivor from a storm-tossed life raft as it was blown further out to sea. Petty Officer Silvious’ heroic actions and life-saving skills were instrumental in the rescue of two people who otherwise would not have survived the historic storm.
Petty Officer Kiley is cited for extraordinary heroism while serving as a rescue swimmer in support of Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, Aug. 27-29, 2017. This category 4 hurricane released more precipitation than any other storm system in U.S. history, discharging as much as 52 inches of rain throughout 28,000 square miles of Texas and flooding much of the city of Houston.
Braving the outer bands of the hurricane, the crew of CGNR 6026 flew through extreme precipitation, heavy lightning and tropical storm force winds in excess of 50 knots to reposition from Lafayette, LA to Houston, TX. Tasking was difficult due to the sheer number of 911 calls coming in for assistance and the vast area of flooding, forcing the pilots to use their smart phones to navigate to street addresses to hoist survivors in dire distress from windows, roofs and tops of submerged cars.
Deploying 18 times from over 100′ to avoid hazardous trees and live power lines, and battling severe mechanical turbulence in excess of 40 knots and torrential rain, he assisted entire city blocks of survivors desperately seeking assistance. Often working alone, he put children and the old or frail onto his back and swam them through rushing floodwaters to the awaiting helicopter.
Once, while positioning a survivor for a hoist, Petty Officer Kiley turned to see a semi-truck barreling towards him with water up to the cab. He grabbed the survivor just in time to pull him out of harm’s way before the truck passed, barely missing them both. Waived down by an anxious survivor, he entered an unlit house filled with brown, putrid water and cluttered with floating objects. In the back room, a woman lay on a hospital bed with floodwater already over the mattress. With battery powered medical equipment still operating, Petty Officer Kiley was shocked multiple times as he struggled to bring the elderly woman outside for the hoist.
On another occasion, he deftly climbed onto a roof where a woman desperately held a rubber storage bin, inside which were her toddler and newborn baby trying to stay dry. Remarkably, he was able to carefully carry the bin down from the roof before helping the mother down and arranging all three in the basket for the hoist.
Petty Officer Kiley’s remarkable stamina, adaptability and heroism were instrumental in hoisting and saving the lives of 112 people during 21.3 hours of operational relief efforts.
Petty Officers Silvious and Kiley will be recognized during the AFRAS Capitol Hill maritime search and rescue awards ceremony in Washington DC, Sep. 13. The event will be hosted by Congressman Jason Lewis (R-MN) and is coordinated by the board and officers of AFRAS. The Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as other senior maritime and congressional officials, will also attend.
The AFRAS Gold Medal (The VADM Thomas Sargent III Gold Medal) was initially awarded in 1982 and firmly established for annual presentation since 1987. First called “The AFRAS Gold Medal,” its name was changed in 2009 to honor the Association’s first Chairman, VADM Thomas Sargent III, a former Vice Commandant of the United States Coast Guard. The prestigious award is presented annually to a Coast Guard enlisted man or woman for an act of extraordinary bravery during a rescue at sea.