From left, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Adam McGreevy, Chief Boatswain’s Mate and Fraser native Erick Chavez, and Seaman Michael Burkus, right, pose aboard the Expeditionary Sea Base USS Lewis B. Puller after the ship was involved in a rescue operation on Dec. 15.

From left, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Adam McGreevy, Chief Boatswain’s Mate and Fraser native Erick Chavez, and Seaman Michael Burkus, right, pose aboard the Expeditionary Sea Base USS Lewis B. Puller after the ship was involved in a rescue operation on Dec. 15.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Victor A. Mancilla, provided by Lt. Jacob Dirr

Fraser native saves lives during Navy rescue operation

By: Brendan Losinski | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published January 27, 2022

FRASER — A Fraser native serving in the United States Navy is being recognized for his courage and quick thinking during the rescue of a vessel in distress while he was deployed in the Gulf of Oman, off the coast of the Middle East.

Chief Boatswain’s Mate Erick Chavez normally performs a variety of duties as he serves aboard the USS Lewis B. Puller. This includes leading a team of 11 sailors in the maintenance, material condition and mission readiness; training other sailors; advising superior officers; and overseeing regular operations such as refueling. He and his crewmates had to add “rescue operations” to their duties, as well, when they and the crew of the USS Sirocco observed a fishing vessel in distress on Dec. 15.

“A fire caused an explosion aboard their vessel, which was smuggling illicit drugs while transiting the Gulf of Oman,” Chavez wrote in an email. “The mariners were observed pouring containers of liquid on cargo and forward deck prior to fire aboard. When we approached in Puller, the burning boat was sinking. Sailors from Sirocco safely rescued five mariners injured in the explosion. As Sirocco rescued the mariners from the wreckage, Puller’s crew readied the deck to triage the injured mariners and overcame a difficult rescue to hoist the survivors onto Puller’s deck. Once received, Puller’s medical personnel worked urgently to stabilize the patients and arrange for rapid air transportation to advanced care.”

Chavez said a rescue like this is not an ordinary or routine event, but it is not highly unusual, noting that the seas can be a dangerous place, and more often than not, it’s about being in the right place at the right time in order to render assistance. He added that a sailor may serve 20 years in the Navy and never have an experience like this, while some have done similar things five or 10 times in their first deployment alone.

“Initially, my adrenaline was pumping; we were required to make some time-critical decisions on how to bring the mariner’s aboard,” he wrote. “My team and I knew it wasn’t going to be just a simple event. Personnel were coming from all over to set up an on-scene triage area, as we didn’t have a clear picture of the physical condition of the survivors. Our team did a tremendous job of not being overwhelmed by the potential distractors from the orders being given to others around them and communications coming from multiple controlling stations aboard the ship. … Puller has some really great equipment setups but isn’t equipped with standard US Navy Search and Rescue equipment. We were required to reconfigure our boat launching crane to lift a stretcher from a small boat, in order to recover the most critically injured.”

Captain Richard G. Burgess is Puller’s commanding officer. He orchestrated the ship’s actions during the rescue such as positioning the ship, launching small boats to recover survivors at sea, reconfiguring the ship to properly care for survivors, and landing and launching the rescue helicopter. He said his crew, and Chavez in particular, performed very well during the operation.

“Without notice or training to this specific scenario, Chief Chavez and his sailors sprang to action when needed,” he wrote in an email. “They remained calm and professional and performed their duties deliberately and precisely. Safely embarking wounded survivors at sea onto a ship is challenging, and Chief Chavez led the efforts on the mission deck to accomplish this.”

Burgess went on to say that Chavez’s actions and quick thinking saved lives that day.

“Some survivors were in critical condition, and they needed professional medical care quickly,” he wrote. “Chief Chavez and his crewmates received the survivors on the side of the ship and safely and expeditiously got them onto the ship, where they received this necessary care.”

As someone who works with Chavez each day, Burgess said he is glad his actions and service are being recognized.

“I work with and see Chief Chavez every day. He is responsible for running the mission deck, which launches and recovers our small boats and, during this rescue, served as a temporary home for survivors,” wrote the captain. “Chief Chavez ensured the safe recovery of five survivors onto the ship and provided space to triage and tend to them, as well as configure a temporary home for them to rest and recover.”

Burgess hopes this operation will show more people how much the Navy does on a daily basis and how those serving in the branch are taking action to help people around the world.

“(I hope more people learn) that the Navy has and trains young men and women to excel in a crisis,” he wrote. “That when emergencies occur, there are sailors who stand ready to respond and assist, and can do so with world-class training and professionalism. I hope readers take away from this rescue what I did: a feeling of great pride that our sailors are ready and willing to help those in need.”

Chavez echoed many of those sentiments, saying that those serving in the Navy are among the best and brightest the United States has to offer.

“I hope that people know that we’re out here, making a difference,” he wrote. “Whether it’s the Navy’s force of presence, afloat around the world, impacting illicit activities and direct engagement with our advisories, or ashore in the US, we’re making a difference to people around us. At home, we are representatives to our communities of what military men and women are and uphold, and we strive to make a difference in those communities that we serve from. Abroad and on deployment, we’re ambassadors of the United States and the military, and we work daily to change the mindset of those who consider us enemies by rendering humanitarian aid, or life-saving efforts, regardless of their beliefs or origins.”