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You’re going to Liberia. Part Two

Wednesday March 05th 2008 - 9:18 PM EST
Added by: Don Shipley



The Dream Team minus Dag. Matt far left, Wacko, Doc, Me, Butt Dart, Sky, Bart.

Matt got me on the flight deck one hot morning and said a Ship had exploded and there was a lot of dead and wounded and we were to get to the Wardroom right away for a meeting.

The Wardroom was packed as the Captain explained that a message was received concerning a Merchant Ship a few hundred miles from us that had exploded and was burning. The Ship crew were unknown and the explosion a mystery while it seemed it had been attacked. The Ship had no power and was sinking. Their only communications was a hand-held radio to another passing Merchant Ship who came along side Her but could not assist. Details were very sketchy.

Everyone was throwing in their two-cents with ideas of what could be done while the Ponce turned and began closing the distance.

Right in the middle of all this, Matt stands again and interrupts saying he had a Paramedic, a EMT/Corpsman, the best communicator on the Ship and that we could fastrope on-board.

The Captain took all of three seconds to consider what Matt had said and replied, "All right, the SEALs will go aboard."

Everybody and his mother on the Ship wanted to go and especially the Flight Surgeon. No! The SEALs will go alone and the Flight Surgeon will go as well and can be lowered if the SEALs need him stated the Captain. 

I was pretty sure we would not need his services...

The plan was to load two CH-46 helos. One would be filled with all our gear and it would be lowered to the deck. The second helo had all of us on board. We were going to launch 180 miles out and the helos would just have enough fuel to make it back to the Ponce after dropping us off.

We’d treat the injured, put out the fires and prevent Her from sinking if we could. The Ponce would arrive along side early the next morning. We’d be on our own for the night.

Loaded up and in the air I reviewed my Paramedic pocket guide book. The Ship had loaded us for bear giving us everything we might need medical wise including a defibrillator, Advanced Cardiac Meds, Oxygen and loads of Morphine and other drugs. We had everything.

I witnessed a horrible accident a year before and could do little as our training consisted much of throwing a wounded guy over your shoulder and running to the helo with him. This involved a three year old girl and was a mess, a real nightmare and I could do little except wait for the Fire Department.

After feeling so helpless I asked to be sent to EMT School and excelled, being so motivated. After that I asked to attend Paramedic School and was the first non-medic SEAL to attend.

Two months out of Paramedic School we were flying through a terrible storm into the unknown and I was the Senior Medic and Platoon Chief.

The storm was really getting bad and talk of aborting the mission was coming from the pilots when all of the sudden a loud "Boom" was followed by the helo shuttering. I looked forward to Wacko on the headset and he confirmed we had an explosion on-board.

Close to the Ship the pilots kept punching through the pounding storm. A mile out, the skies opened up clear and calm and we could see the burned smoking hulk dead in the water. Making a pass along side the pilots positioned us over an area on the Ship as Wacko opened the "Hell Hole" in the belly of the helo, dropped the rope and we descended on-board the SS Borenmill.

We were met by a Croatian Sailor who spoke broken English and he led a few of us to the injured as the other guys unsnapped lowered gear from the helo with the Flight Surgeon looking down and waiting for me to invite his pudgy ass to the party.

Quickly assessing each man we had severe burns and broken bones with three crewmen killed and most injured from a crew of thirty.

If I would have needed help or it would have benefited the injured I would have waved the Doctor down, but not part of the Team and a liability I waved the helo’s off that were low on fuel and they headed back to the Ponce with a sad Doctor on-board.

We broke up into groups with a few priorities. Put out the fires, stop the sinking, consolidate the wounded and begin treatment. I began treating the Captain, a Brit and the worst hurt. He explained that a fire had broken out in the laundry room trapping a few guys and killing them. A terrible explosion followed and all in the middle of the night. He was being burned alive on the bridge and saw a small hole without fire and jumped through it and over the side into the water. From 80 feet his fall was broken half way as he hit a lifeboat and had severely broken his leg and bones protruded through the bottom of his foot. Third degree burns and no ear he had laid in his own piss for 40 hours without so much as an aspirin.

He was in bad shape.

The second in Command was in bad condition. He had launched a lifeboat to abandon ship and got between it and crushed his legs in the process. The third in Command was killed fighting the fire and the radio operator died sending out a distress call with another crewman and were burned alive. Poorly trained they launched the lifeboats without putting the bilge plugs in and they sank.

Brave guys, they fought the fire in their underwear and flip-flops for 36-hours making their last stand at the cargo holds filled with bulk paper where they got the fire under control.

The Ship was without power.

I remember asking Matt how it felt to Command his first Ship as all the leadership on-board was killed or incapacitated. Matt always had a smile and very calm and collected. Before he could answer the smile left his face as the skies opened up and all Hell broke loose. The storm was back and saving his first Command and all aboard was going to be a challenge that night.

We’d be tested and were alone in the middle of the pounding ocean on a sinking Ship with no chance of rescue.

We got all the wounded guys together and used the Captains Stateroom as a triage station. We strung "Chemlites" for some light and it worked well even with it flooded by a foot of water.

I hit the Captain with some morphine and asked how he was feeling a few minutes later. Through his burned face he said "Lovely Mate" and our corpsman began cleaning his infected foot and stabilizing his broken bones.

Dag did his best to stop the flooding but with no power it did little good. The fire had burned a swimming pool size hole through all the decks and heavy rains poured in as the Ship listed and the waves that pounded us and the high winds rolled the Ship from side to side making Her unstable. We put all the remanding crew in life jackets and kept them together on the sheltered main deck with the body bags of the guys killed.

Moving through the Ship was dangerous and spooky. I remember moving through a flooded passageway with a flashlight and waves of water going side to side. I looked down and there was an old black and white picture of a stern looking, unsmiling woman floating in the water.

It creeped me out.

With all the wounded treated we settled down exhausted and assessed the situation. The cook came up and fed us apples, tomatoes and bread as that was all there was unspoiled. We had given radios to crewmen needing to go below for any reason. Two had gone to attempt to restore power when we got the call that one had been electrocuted.

We moved quickly to him soaking wet and entered the space. He did not look good.

He had taken a big shock and was blown far away from it luckily and we moved him up for treatment and had another man down hard.

It was 1 am.

The Ponce was close but could not do anything until daybreak and we began to pick up radio traffic and understood the magnitude of the mission as the whole world was intently listening to a blow by blow high sea rescue over open channels of what eight SEALs were doing that night and rooting for us.

Sunrise brought calm seas and the Ponce made plans to receive us and the wounded. I told the Captain we’d be flying him to the Ponce and he said no, he was staying with his Ship. I explained he’d lose the infected leg and probably die and that a Ship was in-route to tow his Ship to port. He finally said he’d go but gave one last order that "If their standing, their staying" meaning keep as many of the crew on board as possible.

OK, Captain, No Problem...

A Huey launched and landed on the Ship being smaller than a CH-46 and off came the Flight Surgeon. He blew right past me and Matt and began assessing a guy who wasn’t even hurt and just watching the show. Using his stethoscope and still in the rotor wash he couldn’t hear a thing in this guys chest as Matt and I just watched him.

I had three guys on stretchers and ready to load. Two of them I had put "Cranials" on; a type of aircrew helmet that had Micky Mouse type ear protection and strapped like a motorcycle helmet around the neck, the Captain did not have one on. The Surgeon told me to get one on him. It was policy and no one was flying without one he continued.

I started to explain when he cut me off and said "I TOLD YOU TO GET A F-----G CRANIAL ON THAT MAN."

I was tired and the guys head was a big bandage. We had kicked ass and kept everyone alive so I was pissed that he was trying to come in on the end and undo what we had done and replied with "HE DOESN’T HAVE ANY F----- G EARS, AND I’M NOT PUTTING A F-----G  HELMET ON HIM!"

That argument was over fast.

As the injured flew to the Ponce I had a last look around the Captain Stateroom. IV bags, bloody clothing and bandages floated in the water. Severe burns, broken bones, electrocutions and other painful traumatic injuries, it had been a tough night.

We loaded the last Huey with our squad and left.

Back on-board we were front page news and congratulations came in from all over. We went to sleep after looking in on the injured at Sick Bay. 24-hours from start to finish on the Borenmill we all received the Navy’s Highest Award for lifesaving and another for our work as Snipers.

This was no SEAL Mission and something we had never trained for. In the end we were the best choice and pulled off a major operation with 100% success. It was all Teamwork...

I never did get to blow that beach though...





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