When a Coast Guard aircrew is called upon to rescue a fisherman clinging to a capsized vessel 50 miles from shore, or a climber is stranded on an icy ledge at 6,000 feet, mission success demands a team of people possessing a variety of skills, performing specific jobs.
A Coast Guard flight mechanic, among many other navigational and mechanical responsibilities, is the person who operates the helicopter hoist. The hoist controls the cable that lowers equipment and people to and from a helicopter. The flight mechanic controls the hoist while simultaneously relaying commands to the helicopter pilot who is not able to see what is directly below the aircraft.
Less than a year ago, Petty Officer 3rd Class Rashad Gipson, an aviation maintenance technician at Air Station Astoria in Warrenton, Ore., was working to become a qualified flight mechanic. Despite countless hours he’d spent in the hangar, working to ensure all three Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters at the air station were ready to respond, Gipson had yet to run the hoist in a real-life rescue situation.
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,” said Gipson. “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. Gipson attributes to his father not only his decision to join the Coast Guard, but also with the success he’s found within the organization.
“My father has always been and continues to be a positive influence in my life,” said 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 graduated from basic training at Cape May, N. J., and was sent to serve on the Coast Guard 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.
“The Coast Guard provides the stability and value I was looking for in my work,” said 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 is known at Sector Columbia River as more than a skilled aviation maintenance technician, but someone who motivates others.
“Rashad Gipson is 100 percent genuine,” said Chief Petty Officer Paul Whittle, head aviation maintenance technician 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.”
Though Gipson’s work ethic and drive kept him striving to become flight mechanic qualified while working as an aviation maintenance technician, his conduct, character and attitude have been every bit as integral to his success, both in the air and in the hangar.
“Gipson worked for me as an airman in Cape Cod and as an aviation maintenance technician at Air Station Astoria,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Joseph Adams, former lead engineering chief at the air station. “He was, and continues to be, a hard worker with an infectious positive attitude. He is level-headed, well-liked and a positive influence for the entire hangar.”
Nearly 11 months later, Gipson is a fully-qualified flight mechanic, with more experience in real-life rescue situations than many flight mechanics years his senior.
“I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to be involved with three cases this year,” said Gipson. “It’s been a real blessing to get the experience. Training gives you the basics, the fundamentals. Each real-life rescue situation is different; different from training and different from any other real-life situation. All I did was take what I learned in training, try to keep a cool head, and apply what I could.”
Gipson’s efforts behind the hoist helped result in four lives saved in 2013, with cases ranging from sinking vessels to a hiker stranded on a cliff.