I often wonder whether the frequency and magnitude of tragedy in these times are actually greater than in the past or if it just seems that way because we hear about tragic events so quickly and so often. Super Storm Sandy and the Kansas City Chiefs player murder-suicide have recently assumed prominent positions on our ever-changing tragedy list. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III was added to the list the weekend of Dec. 1 when he died in the line of duty off the California coast.
Some tragedies on the current list seem to connect with us more solidly than others. No one close to me was seriously affected by Sandy, but I know people who live in some of the hardest hit areas. I didn’t know Jovan Belcher, but like many other Americans, I know about the sport that made him famous. I never met CPO Terrell Horne III, but I know a little bit about the job he performed. This tragedy connects.
I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working with various Coast Guard personnel from Admirals to non-military employees and every rank in between. We worked on a variety of nationwide boating safety projects.
I always kept a lookout for the slacker or the unprofessional attitude among USCG personnel. Maybe it has something to do with getting the most out of my tax dollars: “All that money for taxes and he/she doesn’t know the pointy end of a boat from the flat end.”
I kept looking for the weak link, but it never materialized. There were no slackers, and every member of the Coast Guard family that crossed my path performed professionally, competently and with a recognizable pride for the opportunity to serve his or her country.
As I got older, they began looking younger and younger. Eventually I was convinced some of them weren’t old enough to enlist. They came from places like Minnesota and Arizona, where they probably didn’t get much sea time.
I learned that by the time their superior officers decided they were ready, their age or hometown didn’t matter. They had received first rate training for the jobs they were assigned. They were professionals. I’m not sure whether you can teach enthusiasm and integrity, but they also seemed to have picked tons of that up along the way.
Few of us interact with the other branches of the U.S. military when they’re doing their jobs. Their missions include little or no direct service to the civilian population with the exception of the National Guard.
We get to see the Coast Guard all the time as it enforces laws of the sea and other waterways. They rescue stranded boaters, provide emergency radio communications along all three coasts and the Great Lakes, and provide a host of other services intended to save lives and prevent tragedies. CPO Horne was carrying out one of those other services, drug interdiction, when he lost his life.
Everyone who travels the U.S. coasts or Great Lakes by boat or ship carries the same little bright light with them. It’s the knowledge you’re never completely alone out there.
If fate casts you up on the rocks, you hit something or something hits you, someone onboard experiences a medical emergency or any number of other potential catastrophes beset you, one image can instantly improve the worst of what the sea can throw at you.
It’s a white hull with a red diagonal stripe across the bow or a red helicopter coming toward you. Because when you see either or both of those images, you know a group of well trained, professionals like Chief Horne has arrived. You know they will risk their own lives to save yours. You know you’re saved.
You can make donations to the Horne family through the Coast Guard Foundation.
Harry Munns blogs at Building The Best Redondo.