Improvise, Adapt & Overcome or… Semper Gumby!

>I have always marveled at the ability of our Marine Corps brothers and sisters to make good on their official service motto, Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful) and their unofficial mantra, “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.” Not to be outdone, in addition to our proud service motto Semper Paratus (Always Ready), we in the Coast Guard have our own corollary I like to call “Semper Gumby,” or “Always Flexible.”

One of my favorite “Semper Gumby” rescue stories dates back to 1943, when the Russian freighter LAMUT, carrying lend lease war supplies to Vladivostok, grounded on the treacherous rocks of the infamous Quillayute Needles along the Washington coast.

Unable to reach the wreck by surf boat, members from the Coast Guard Station in LaPush, WA, hacked their way through miles of wilderness to reach a point on a rocky cliff above the grounded freighter, only to find their messenger line just a few feet short of what was needed to rig a rescue highline of sorts from the cliff to the deck of the vessel.

Out of line, but not ideas, the enterprising Coast Guardsmen removed their bootlaces to extend the messenger line a few feet. They rigged their line, and successfully rescued 52 crewmembers from the doomed vessel.

Fast forward to February 18th, 2009, when the members of Coast Guard Station Marquette received a call to assist a person in distress on Lake Superior. With their station boats hauled out for the winter ice season, Boatswains Mate Second Class Michael Davis and his team gathered up their ice rescue gear and drove to the scene expecting a “hard water” rescue. What they found was an exhausted, hypothermic cold water surfer 200 yards offshore in “soft water,” unable to swim any further.

Out of time, but not ideas, BM2 Davis assessed the risk, and put his team to work by adapting ice rescue procedures to an open water situation. “We just huddled up and came up with a plan,” Davis remarked. Remaining tethered in tandem as if they were working on top of the ice, the team improvised and “adjusted” their ice rescue procedures to work their way through the water to reach the incapacitated surfer and bring him to shore. One life saved.

[Watch the TV news story]

Whether it’s 1943 or 2009, flexibility and on-scene initiative, two of our USCG Publication One basic principles of operation, always win the day. These same principles put helicopter Rescue Swimmers on rooftops during Hurricane Katrina, chopping and cutting people free with axes and chainsaws. Something none of them had ever trained for, but an adaptation they achieved through initiative and flexibility. This is what makes Guardians different. It’s part of our heritage, and a prime ingredient that sustains our strong culture of response.

A hearty Bravo Zulu (and Semper Gumby!) to Station Marquette!

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