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Coast Guard Foundation to honor Coast Guard Service Excellence in Pacific Northwest

by Coast Guard Foundation 30 Jul 2023 11:48 PDT September 12, 2023
Petty Officer 3rd Class John `Branch` Walton, a rescue swimmer assigned to Air Station North Bend, Oregon, poses for a portrait at the air station Feb. 14, 2023. Walton rescued a mariner in distress Friday, Feb. 3, 2023 © Petty Officer 1st Class Travis Magee

The Coast Guard Foundation will honor the Coast Guard's service excellence, and its rescue of a mariner on the Columbia River Bar earlier this year at its biannual Seattle event on Sept. 12, 2023. The Pacific Northwest Awards Event is attended by Coast Guard members, maritime and defense industry leaders, and supporters of the Coast Guard.

The Award

Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, began as the last day of training for students at two Coast Guard schools - the Advanced Rescue Swimmer School and the National Motor Lifeboat School. Already certified boat and helicopter rescuers, the students were earning advanced qualifications in the treacherous waters off the Columbia River.

Instead of a routine school day finishing up training tasks and preparing for graduation, the students were called into action when multiple Coast Guard units responded to an urgent request for assistance from the disabled 35-foot vessel Sandpiper six miles west of the Columbia River bar.

After receiving a MAYDAY call at 10 a.m., search and rescue specialists from Sector Columbia River directed the launch of a 47-foot motor lifeboat from Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment and an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from the Advanced Rescue Helicopter School that was located at the station. Multiple crews from the National Motor Lifeboat School, who were conducting training in the area, also diverted to respond.

Once on scene Coast Guard responders communicated with the distressed mariner and learned that the vessel was sinking. Conditions were 20-foot seas with extremely high winds.

The Coast Guard helicopter deployed Petty Officer 3rd Class Branch Walton, a student at the Advanced Helicopter Rescue School, to the water using a hoist cable. As the rescue swimmer approached the Sandpiper, a breaking wave capsized the vessel, and the mariner was thrown into the breaking seas.

Battling immense waves and strong currents, Walton retrieved the survivor, and both were hoisted aboard the helicopter. This was Walton's first life saved as a rescue swimmer.

After the survivor was transferred to emergency medical personnel, authorities determined he had stolen the vessel. He was later detained.

"We are proud to honor the Coast Guard members who went from trainees to heroes," said Susan Ludwig, president of the Coast Guard Foundation.

The Event

The every-other-year event honors the Coast Guard and raises money for Foundation programs that support members and families. The Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Linda Fagan and the Vice Commandant, Admiral Steve Poulin will attend, as will Coast Guard members from throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The event will also honor Mike Flood, Vice President of Community Outreach for the Seattle Seahawks. A Seattle native, Flood has played an essential role in developing relationships between the Seattle Seahawks and local military units in the Pacific Northwest since 1997. He also spent 22 years as a Coast Guard pilot conducting search and rescue missions along the Oregon and Washington coasts.

The event, which includes a reception and dinner, will be held at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center, Tuesday, Sept. 12, beginning at 6 p.m.

Local Coast Guard Support

While the event raises funds for the Coast Guard Foundation's work nationwide, notable local projects include:

  • 22 scholarships awarded to Coast Guard children attending college and training/technical school throughout the Pacific Northwest in the last two years;
  • 21 grants awarded to Coast Guard spouses attending college and or training/technical school throughout the region;
  • 115 grants to Coast Guard families to send their children to summer camp in the last two years;
  • Morale and wellness programs that include:
    • 23 morale and wellness projects in the Pacific Northwest in the last 18 months, totaling $115,000 in support, including essential equipment for eight cutters homeported there.
    • A renovated and well-equipped fitness center for Coast Guard members assigned at Air Station Port Angeles.
    • A full complement of surfing gear for Station Quillayute River providing a unique recreation opportunity for members and families at this remote and isolated unit.
To learn more about the Coast Guard Foundation or to support its work, please visit www.coastguardfoundation.org or call 860-535-0786.

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