Dangerous Rescues Are Part of Job for Coast Guard

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"I've been involved in a couple incidents where the Coast Guard helped save boats and crew," said John Fraser, a commercial fisherman based in Harbor, Oregon, and captain of the 41-foot (12.5-meter) wooden boat Njord. "The weather can be tough in this area and change at a moment's notice. It's nice to have the Coast Guard standing by a radio 24 hours a day, listening for any distress calls."

The Pacific Northwest Coast Guard, like all other Coast Guard groups in America, is a branch of the armed services; during peacetime the Coast Guard operates as part of the Department of Homeland Security, and during wartime it falls under direction of the Navy. Coast Guards were used in the war efforts in Iraq, and all recruits, whether in wartime or not, are trained to use firearms.

With about 40,000 personnel, the Coast Guard has recently taken on a greater role in national security after September 11, 2001. The United States government is utilizing the guardsmen to more closely patrol and protect its coastlines from possible terrorist attacks and intrusions.

Drugs, Illegal Immigrants, and National Defense

"Mostly what we do is rescues," said Lieutenant Commander Thomas Durand, of the group Airstation Surface Operation in North Bend, Oregon. "But our other duties depend on a wide range of factors and can involve keeping foreign fishermen out of our waters to searching boats for terrorists' weapons."

The Coast Guard also deals with drug runners. Last year they seized 136,865 pounds (62,081 kilograms) of cocaine—with an estimated street value of more than four billion dollars (U.S.).

They are also charged with responding to hazardous chemical spills, educating people in boating safety, and intercepting illegal immigrants at sea.

At the Chetco River Station, Bankson recommended six Coast Guard achievement medals be awarded to his staff for their efforts in saving Mitch Powell. Just after one o'clock in the morning, Sway was towed into Brookings Harbor, Oregon, where Powell was taken to a hospital and eventually made a full recovery.

"Sometimes this job can be scary and life threatening. But that's the nature of the job and we have to do it," said Castle. "It's a great feeling to rescue people and know you really helped someone."

Dangerous Jobs, Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/9 p.m. PT in the United States, is available only on the National Geographic Channel. Click here to learn more about it >>

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