ASTORIA, Ore. — We often hear about the rescuer. The brave act of the hero who dangles at the end of a helicopter cable to retrieve the imperiled hiker stranded on a ledge, or the boat driver who mans the helm for six hours in 20-foot swells to tow a stranded fishing vessel through the storm to the safety of a harbor. Such bravery in the face of danger deserves recognition and will always make for a good story.
There are thousands of Coast Guard men and women who work daily to make the actions of these rescuers possible; to turn potential lifesaving opportunities into real life situations that mean the difference between life and death. During times like these, the lives at stake are not only those of the victims, but those of the heroic rescuers who come to their aid. Coast Guardsmen miles away and hours, weeks and years before have worked to ensure reliable equipment, adequate training and well maintained boats and helicopters. Some of these men and women do this while training to fill the role of the rescuer, taking on a number or roles and responsibilities within our service.
One such Coast Guardsman, Petty Officer 3rd Class Rashad Gipson, aviation maintenance technician (AMT) at Sector Columbia River’s Air Station Astoria, Ore., works to ensure that all three Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters at the unit are ready to respond when the search-and-rescue alarm goes off. His commitment to the Coast Guard began shortly after he got his associates degree and found himself less than satisfied in several different workplaces.
“After two years of college I worked several different jobs doing a variety of things,” Gipson explained. “I worked jobs in construction, reception and did some tutoring, but I found myself wanting more from my job.”
Gipson’s father, a retired Marine Captain, suggested Gipson look at what the Coast Guard had to offer. Gipson did some research, spoke to his local recruiter and decided to enlist.
“The Coast Guard provides the stability and value I was looking for in my work,” stated Gipson. “My daily responsibilities have meaning. I contribute to the Coast Guard’s missions, the most important of which is to save lives. What can be more important than that?” he smiled.
Gipson graduated from the required two-month basic training at Cape May, N. J., and was sent to serve on Cutter Tahoma, a 270-foot medium endurance cutter out of Portsmouth, N. H. During his two years there, he worked as a Fireman, an entry-level machinery technician who works to maintain the various mechanical components aboard a cutter, including the ship’s engines.
“I learned a lot and gained valuable experience aboard the Tahoma,” Gipson said. “I came to realize that performing mechanical work appeals to me. Welding and metal work, for example, are skills that translate into daily life and can be useful at home or in a career outside the Coast Guard someday. Though I knew I wanted to continue mechanical work, I wanted to see what sort of challenges I would face on the aviation side of the Coast Guard. I worked hard to enter and complete the Airman Program at Air Station Cape Cod, Mass., went to school to get trained in my current field and now work as an AMT here in Astoria.”
Gipson is known at Sector Columbia River as more than a skilled AMT, but someone who motivates others.
“Rashad is a motivated technical mechanic on the hangar deck with a endless drive to see maintenance to completion, said Petty Officer 1st Class Christian Salinas, a lead AMT at Air Station Astoria. “On weekend duty days it is always reassuring to know he is part of my duty section; that any aircraft discrepancies will be met with one of our best trouble shooters. Gipson ensures that all possible solutions have been exhausted. He is currently working to become flight mechanic qualified, and his enthusiasm has become infectious to the other members who are waiting in line to work on the same qualifications.”
A flight mechanic is the person aboard a Coast Guard helicopter who, among many other navigational and mechanical responsibilities, runs the hoist. The hoist controls the cable that lowers equipment and people to the helicopter. When the Coast Guard is called to rescue fishermen from a sinking ship on a dark and stormy night 75 miles from shore, the flight mechanic lowers the rescue swimmer to the distressed vessel, all the while relaying aircraft commands to the helicopter pilot who is not able to see the bobbing vessel, the water around it, the rescue swimmer, or the victim.
Gipson, among countless other jobs at the Air Station, is well on his way to becoming a flight mechanic.
“Just like any other job in the Coast Guard,” Gipson elaborated. “AMTs have a wide variety of primary responsibilities. Flexibility is crucial. We must be able to transition from one set of mechanical problems to another at a moment’s notice, to rapidly transition from one mechanical system to another with acute attention to detail. Focus and flexibility are key, as is the ability to remain calm. Right now I am looking forward to completing my qualifications as a flight mechanic so I can spend more time flying and see more action outside the hangar-to get up in the air and save some lives.”
Gipson’s work ethic and drive keep him going, but his conduct, character and attitude are every bit as integral to his success at the Air Station.
“Rashad Gipson is 100% genuine,” said Chief Petty Officer Paul Whittle, head AMT at the Air Station. “He is open to learn or share knowledge from or with anyone who is willing and he maintains the highest level of integrity. He is always a positive influence on the hangar deck. Coming in to work in the morning, we could be faced with a large stack of work to do. He always is glass-half-full.”
“Gipson worked for me as an Airman in Cape Cod before I transferred here,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Joseph Adams, Lead Engineering Chief at the Air Station. “He was, and continues to be a hard worker with an infectious positive attitude. I'm impressed by how quickly he picked up maintenance techniques and how he became the number one Spindle Technician in the shop. He is level-headed, well-liked, and a positive influence for the entire hangar."
Gipson attributes to his father not only his decision to join the Coast Guard, but with the success he’s found within the organization.
“My father has always been and continues to be a positive influence in my life,” noted Gipson. “I will do my best to follow his example and live up to his legacy. If I become half the man he is, I will be good to go.”
Gipson’s character and work ethic lend not only to his success as an Aviation Maintenance Technician, but to the success of Sector Columbia River’s Air Station Astoria and the Coast Guard as a whole.
The Coast Guard is made up of many people like Gipson. Some will eventually find themselves performing heroic acts of valor on dark and stormy nights, but most will achieve heroism unseen and unknown in a mundane work environment.
Today in an office, an engine room, a hangar deck, a galley, a paint locker, a boathouse, under a sink, in a watchtower, a command center and behind a front desk, work thousands of Coast Guard heroes, always ready to respond.