Coast Guard Rescue 1705: A family grieves

T.A. Barnhart

I am watching the memorial service for Coast Guard Rescue 1705, being streamed from Air Station Sacramento, the home base for that lost C-130. As I watch,my son, Seaman Jesse Newman-Barnhart, is on board the USCG Midgett, returning to port in Seattle. Two days ago, he and the Midgett participated in a remembrance ceremony for the crew of Rescue 1705 off the coast of San Diego. They had arrived in port the day before, returning from patrol along the Pacific Coast of Central and South America. In a circumstance of such tragedy, that so many fellow Guardians could pay tribute to their lost comrades was bittersweet.

I wish it could be so, but I doubt this will be the last time Jesse will have to say farewell to a comrade.

On October 29, 2009, while searching for a lost boater off the coast of southern California, a Coast Guard C-130 with a crew of seven struck a Marine Corps helicopter with two on-board. Both craft went down, and all nine Coasties and Marines were killed.

Members of Coast Guard Rescue 1705, Air Station Sacramento

Lt. Cmdr. Che J. Barnes
Lt. Cmdr. Che J. Barnes, 35, Capay, Calif., aircraft commander.

Lt. Adam W. Bryant
Lt. Adam W. Bryant, 28, Crewe, Va., co-pilot.

Chief Petty Officer John F. Seidman
Chief Petty Officer John F. Seidman, 43, Stockton, Calif., flight engineer.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Carl P. Grigonis
Petty Officer 2nd Class Carl P. Grigonis, 35, Mayfield Heights, Ohio, navigator.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Monica L. Beacham
Petty Officer 2nd Class Monica L. Beacham, 29, Decaturville, Tenn., radio operator.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason S. Moletzsky
Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason "Jake" S. Moletzsky, 26, Norristown, Pa., air crew.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Danny R. Kreder II
Petty Officer 3rd Class Danny R. Kreder II, 22, Elm Mott, Texas, drop master.

Marine Corps helicopter pilot and co-pilot

Maj. Samuel Leigh
Maj. Samuel Leigh, 35, Kennebec, Maine.

1st Lt. Thomas Claiborne
1st Lt. Thomas Claiborne, 26, Douglas, Colo.

The Marines were on a training exercise with other helicopters; the C-130 was doing what the Coast Guard does on a daily basis: search and rescue. Marines train daily for what something they do infrequently: actual battle. Coasties do not train for war; they perform their main duty on a daily basis. Due to the nature of the work, including the training, those in any of the services are at risk on a frequent basis. We tend to forget that even when we’re not at war, members of the service are killed and injured on a daily basis as part of daily operations.

Coasties train, of course, but mostly they do. The job of the Coast Guard is to be ready, day or night, to protect and rescue. This job is not one that can be set aside in the way a training exercise can be postposed. When a boat is in trouble at sea, they go. That’s their job. The worse the conditions, the more likely they are going to have to go out in them. It’s what they do, and it means every day is the possibility of a mission that is their last. (Not surprisingly, of all the services, only the Marines endure a tougher basic training than do Coasties — and not by much. I was amazed to learn what Jesse and his mates went through in their two months at Cape May last year.)

Jesse Newman-Barnhart, Coastie The Midgett, one of four sister ships that are currently the largest in the Coast Guard’s fleet, is Jesse’s first assignment. His goal is to be a rescue swimmer, one of those crazies who jumps out of helicopters into the ocean in the middle of typhoons to rescue fishing boats. He hopes to take the first step in that direction next year with a training assignment to North Carolina. Rescue swimmers face more danger than perhaps any service member not under enemy fire, but the training they receive is so extensive, the mortality rate is incredibly low. The Coast Trains all its people hard and well; that’s why so few die on duty and why most missions are successful.

But the danger is always there. The accident that killed these nine service members probably happened in a matter of seconds, possibly as the plane, moving twice as fast as the helicopter, dropped down to search closer to the water. The copter was struck broadside, a freak accident in circumstances that, in retrospect, had no margin for error. Two Marines on training; seven Coasties searching for a lost boater. Nine Americans doing their duty.

Watching the memorial service from Air Station Sacramento, I realize two things about the Coast Guard family. One, it is a small family. Jesse had to wait several months last year for a date to be set to begin basic training; the Coast Guard has relatively few members and is not running through a new batch of trainees daily or weekly as the other services do. Coast Guard stations tend to be small; cutters like the Midgett, with a crew of over 400, is an exception. Air Station Astoria has fewer than 100 on-duty including Reserve duty members. Many stations have a handful of Coasties, just enough for the mission and no more. The loss of a single Guardian reverberates throughout the entire Coast Guard.

The second thing I realized is that I am now part of that family. These are my son’s comrades; one day, this could be my son. Over the years, as he performs his duty and lives up the standards of the Coast Guard, I know I will continue to take great pride in him: as my son, as a Coastie, as a member and representative of the United States Coast Guard. I feel a tremendous sorrow for the loss of CG Rescue 1705; more than anything else, that tells me I am grieving for the loss of family members. A week ago, two days ago, I did not consider myself part of that family. I see now that I am, and for those in the family who have suffered such a loss, I wish peace and comfort.

Alex Newman, Oregon National Guard Of course, for me, I am also a member of the family that is the Oregon National Guard, and my son’s service in Iraq has my emotions on a finer edge than might be otherwise. It is difficult for me to feel the same way about Alex’s service in the National Guard — now, during deployment, in the U.S. Army — especially since he is part of an occupation force I believe to be illegal and immoral. Yet as I look past that aspect of his service, I know he is as dedicated to the job, as he calls it, as his brother is to being a Coastie. For that reason, among many, I am just as proud of him.

And if Alex is able to keep his comrades safe with his presence, providing protection as the convoys roll through the backroads of Iraq, then he’ll have done a good thing. I hope he can do this in the context of a drawdown and an understanding from potential hostile forces that we are withdrawing and want only for the Iraqi people to build a peaceful nation. If Alex and the Oregon Guard can help bring this about, and can do without having to take lives, then in retrospect we may be glad of their service there (but honestly, I’m not holding my breath).

Here in Oregon, we owe much to both the Coast Guard and our National Guard. Both serve the state in tangible, meaningful ways. It seems that every few days, the Coast Guard is pulling a fisherman out of the water, rescuing a broken-down boat, searching for a lost swimmer. In normal times, the National Guard provides help during fire season, when floods threaten communities, during natural disasters and other dangers to the people of Oregon. They protect people, they save lives, and they do so at the constant risk of their own.

We tend to romanticize the military in this country, but there’s no need to resort to melodrama. We need only tell the unadorned story of our countrymen and women who choose to serve in uniform. The bare truth should always suffice. A cruel accident that kills nine brave Americans needs nothing more than the simple words of what happened off the coast of California: In the performance of their duties, seven Coasties and two Marines died in service to their nation.

We grieve their loss and honor their service.

  • (Show?)

    Thanks for this post, TA.

    What's the source for the quoted text at the top - or is that you, and it was mistakenly tagged blockquote?

  • rw (unverified)

    My brother, who went down in a warbird at Tillamook some years ago, was a Coastie. His mates at the memorial told rollicking and incredible stories of his comport during heavy ocean rescues - he reveled in the work, even as he was a rather geeky seeming man. An analyst with the NSA, a cartoonist, an author, baseball fanatic: he also was a Coastie. I like that you make the distinction that theirs is the branch of daily doing.

  • jane coastie (unverified)

    As a fellow coastie who has served on 2 of the 378's, the same size as the Midgett, just want to clarify: There are 10 ships (cutters) that size and each only has a crew of about 160, not 400.

    I also watched the service today while at my CG unit in Washington DC. I was friends with one of the CG pilots and several of us sat in a large room watching the memorial service and cried together; the CG truly is a family, and a small one at that. The New York City Police Department has more people than the entire US Coast Guard.

    You spoke true, the CG is very competitive to get into, it can take up to a year to get selected out of the many that apply and then to get a spot in boot camp. I know because I work in recruiting and we strive to only select those who are the best qualified, not those who simply meet the minimum standards. Statistically it is easier to get into Harvard right now than into Coast Guard Officer Candidate School.

  • (Show?)

    Jane, thx for the clarifications. i was confusing the crew size with the ship length, i guess!

    i'm sorry for the loss of your friend & comrade; the 29th was good weather, but you guys are ready to go out in the worst weather, and there are thousands of people who owe you their lives as a result. if you ever meet up with my kid, take care of him. he's quiet & a bit skinny, but now that i know what he went thru in basic -- what you all go thru -- i know he's tougher than i ever could have imagined.

  • (Show?)

    rw, you sound proud of your brother. and it sounds like you had every reason to be. it takes a special person to be a Coastie -- this is something i'm learning more about. to be honest, it makes me a bit more nervous about Jesse's future, but i am also confident that not only will he be trained exceptionally well, he'll always be surrounded by great crew mates who'll have his back at all times.

    i'll think of your brother next Wednesday, on Veterans Day. i usually don't go to any events, but i think this year calls for it.

  • Richard (unverified)

    A former coastie, I salute fallen comrades.

  • Sandi J (unverified)

    Good evening,

    I stumbled across your page while seeking google for the latest on today's memorial ceremony, and am so sincerely happy that I clicked on this link, as opposed to mainstream media coverage.

    I served 6 years in the USCG and have just re-enlisted to continue my career because God knows I miss it with all of my heart. I want to rest assure you that your son is in more than good hands, and for further assurance, now your son has become "good hands" for many he will rescue, assist, guide and protect and it's evident how proud you are of that, which is such a beautiful thing.

    I also want to thank you for speaking so highly of our service. A lot of people have no idea how far even just the slightest show of support goes. It gives those who wear the uniform an extra surge of strength to carry on with their mission and remain ever-vigilent. I'd also be willing to bet that your son is accelling rapidly in the Coast Guard and probably is highly admired by his crew and elders if your attitude is any indication of what's been instilled in him. I hope I have to opportunity to work with him in the field. Best of luck to both sons and you as well. You're in for a ride yourself being the proud father of two of the country's finest!

    God Bless!!

    ~Sandi Joy

  • Giorgio (unverified)

    I feel great sympathy for the young men and woman whom have lost their lives. There have been a series of plane/train/car accidents connected to Andy Warhol's Death and Destrction phase. Some people are so influenced by old movies and art that they try to make events come true in real life, hence increasing the value of the art pieces. The small plane crash on 3/22/09 in Montana was highly suspect. Air France 474 suspiciously crashed on 5/31/09 after departing from Rio. In a very short period of time two other commercial airlines crashed. On 8/8/09 a small plane and helicopter collided over the Hudson. There is a lot of pressure not to investigate for foul play. I hope there are just investigations in the future. Uncover the cover-up!

  • james skimin (unverified)

    my brother was killed last year in a coast guard accident in hawaii.(coast guard 6505) he was the rescue swimmer on board the aircraft. he was a 17 year coastie. 10 of them he was a swimmer. I also realized from this accident how close the coastie family is. I lost 1 brother but gained thousands more. .My thoughts are with the families as they go through this terrible loss.I was there a year ago.I still have trouble but its getting better every day. I like to think that my brother(david skimin) was hoisting them up after the accident. RIP coast guard 6505. RIP coast guard 1705. RIP marines AH1. Your jobs here are all done. well see you all again on the other side. MUCH RESPECT TO ALL

  • Paul Cox (unverified)

    So, could we do more than lip service, and have some criminal prosecutions for stooopid people that unnecesarily put service personnel in harm's way? Someone tells a boater not to go out, they have one too many, go anyway and a serviceman gets killed. That should be manslaughter, minimum.

    Also criminal is the way the military gives the Guard and homeside personnel second rate equipment. Ditto above. If outdated aircraft are found to be an issue, there should be financial and criminal consequences for the administrators that made the decision.

    Finally, the events at Ft. Hood have shown that we need more home service. The classic, "who guards the guards", is more poignant than ever now. "How protects the protectors"? In Iraq Blackwater and other contrators are out front killing bad guys so our troops are safe. Who does that here? Time has come for a service that protects service personnel on base and off!

  • DJMILLER (unverified)

    As a former United States Coastguardsman...a Coastie, from the old guard back in the 60's, I salute my fallen brothers and sisters. 1705 crew, you had to go out, but you didn't have to come back. You did your duty. "So here is the Coast Guard marching song, we sing on land or sea, to fight to save or fight and die, aye, Coast Guard we are for you.

  • Thomas J. O'Toole (unverified)

    Notice to Mariners - stay the hell out of the range area when we are launching rockets! #ares #NASA #facepalm

    I am strongly pro-military and say we need more and bigger test ranges. For one thing, getting mariners out of the area would have prevented all that hokum about the Navy and ceteans. Prolly happens, but our military defense is infinitely more important than sea mammals and it would be nice not to confuse thick enviros with the facts. That's Al Gore's job!

    Great post. Something far from Barry Socialism!

    • @mickav8r
    <h2>(full disclosure: I build better websites than Mandate Media)</h2>

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