Naval Air Station
Whidbey Island (NASWI) Search and Rescue (SAR) Sailors were awarded
Air Medals April 14 for their efforts in rescuing more than 90
people during heavy rain storms, gale-force winds and flooding in
Centralia and Chehalis, Wash., Dec. 3-4. The five Sailors awarded
rescued 38 people from their rooftops, flying the rescued people to
a nearby airport and high school football field.
"This is what we train to do," said Aviation Warfare Systems
Operator 1st Class (AW/NAC) Jeremiah Brown, NASWI SAR. "So, it's
nice to go out and help people in their time of need."
The citations state that superior airmanship and leadership were
critical to the successful rescues. Aircrews battled low cloud
coverage, visibility, gale-force winds, and driving rain during the
rescue. Many of those rescued were critically ill, elderly or
"This was a great mission," said Aviation Warfare Systems
Operator 1st Class (AW/NAC) Lance Tanner, NASWI SAR. "If you look
back at it, there were a lot of times where someone could have died
or we could have crashed, but didn't, so it doesn't seem as
"This was the first call I had at this command, to go down to
the floods and pick up as many people as we could," said Aviation
Warfare Systems Operator 2nd Class (AW/NAC) Christopher Wedding,
NASWI SAR. "I learned a lot doing this. I learned that you would be
surprised at where you can land a helicopter."
They were able to rescue about 10 people at a time before they
had to drop people off to go back and save more people.
"I felt lucky to be able to do this mission," said Aviation
Warfare Systems Operator 1st Class (AW/NAC) Chad Lewis, NASWI SAR.
"This is potentially my last tour in the Navy. So, I was happy to
be able to help these people. I'm happy to get the award, but it's
not the award we were looking for. It's that we are just so happy
to go out there and do our job and be able to help people. That's
the biggest reward."
There are a total of 16 NASWI SAR Sailors who have received Air
Medals at several different ceremonies for their efforts rescuing
more than 90 citizens during the massive flooding.
"The satisfaction of being able to help people is the best
reward we could get," said Lt. Patrick Smith, NASWI SAR. "It's
definitely nice to be recognized, but it's not why we do this."
[ANN Salutes Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (AW/NAC) Eric
J. Rowley, Fleet Public Affairs Center, Det. Northwest]