So Others May Live: Saving Lives, Defying Death with the Coast Guard's Rescue Swimmers. By Martha J. LaGuardia-Kotite. Guilford, Ct.: The Lyons Press, 2006. Photographs. Appendix. Pp. 260. $22.95 ISBN: 1-59228-931-2
Based in part on her own experiences as a Coast Guard officer, LaGuardia-Kotite offers a tightly written narrative about the 1985 creation and subsequent utilization of the U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmers program. Using a series of catastrophic events, she shows the historical basis of the need for the skill set.
But nothing happens simply in the military, and Herculean efforts were necessary to work through the inevitable drag of service bureaucracy to first conceptualize and then define a specific career field for rescue swimmers. The planners looked at the Air Force pararescue jumper (PJ) program but decided that it was too expensive and included far too much medical and combat training for their needs. They ultimately used the Navy model which was developed to train their rescue swimmers--with one significant difference. The Navy treated the assignment as an additional duty. The Coast Guard decided to make it a career field for enlisted men and women. They wanted volunteers who would become key team members with the helicopter crews to provide the ability to rescue those in peril at sea.
When that was accomplished, intrepid young men and women had to be recruited, trained and then posted to units. The training was not easy, and many failed. But the ones who achieved the rating proved the value of the effort as displayed in a series of well told vignettes.
One of the first was for a father and son aboard a 26-foot fishing trawler off the coast of Alaska on a dark and dangerous night in December 1987. When their craft was damaged and then began taking on water in heavy seas and snow showers, the owner sent a distress signal. A Coast Guard HH-3F with a rescue swimmer onboard, Aviation Survivalman Jeff Tunks, launched from Air Station...