What scares you?

Because today is Halloween – a day of spooky ghost stories, haunted houses and trick or treating – we thought we would take a moment and ask Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Mantell what he feared most. Mantell is a junior surfman responsible for operating in one of the nation’s most perilous maritime environments – Cape Disappointment. Commonly known as Station Cape “D,” crewmembers respond to more than 300 calls for assistance every year. Here, in his own words, is Mantell’s response to “What scares you?”

BM2 Robert Mantell, a surfman at Cape Disapointment, at the helm of a motor lifeboat. Screenshot from U.S. Coast Guard video.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Mantell, a surfman at Cape Disapointment, at the helm of a motor lifeboat. Screenshot from U.S. Coast Guard video.

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Mantell.

What scares me? Other than spiders, I would say not successfully completing the mission; one where you did everything that you could and were still unable to pull it off. It happens, you hear about it, but for me I hope I am never in this situation.

The Coast Guard 52-foot motor lifeboat Triumph, tows a vessel back to port after it took on water near the Columbia River mouth. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The Coast Guard 52-foot motor lifeboat Triumph, tows a vessel back to port after it took on water near the Columbia River mouth. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Last year I had a case, and through some poor planning and extraordinary circumstances, I ended up towing a large fishing boat across a large breaking bar at night. It was one of those moments where you recognize the situation that you are in and that there is nothing that can be done about it by the time you figure it out, so you just clear you head, put faith in your vessel and crew and focus on your part of the mission. After we got across the bar things started to sink in, and I started thinking about what we, as a crew, had just been through.

Of course everyone was excited. I mean, there is no feeling like successfully towing a boat through breaking seas. But inside I felt different than I had in other surf cases. I was not worried for myself or my crew really; the Coast Guard has provided us with a fantastic craft in the 52-foot Triumph, and the boat crews wear enough foul weather gear to survive even in the event that we find ourselves in the water.

My thoughts were to the three fishermen I had just put in jeopardy. I began to think about how I would feel if something had happened to the boat I was towing, like what if they had been overtaken by a breaker and capsized? What if three souls had been lost on the bar because of something I had done? It really made me think about how important this job is. It’s not that I hadn’t before, but sometimes as you get more comfortable in your job you forget just how dangerous and dynamic things really are.

Coast Guardsmen aboard a 52-foot motor lifeboat from Station Cape Disappointment. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guardsmen aboard a 52-foot motor lifeboat from Station Cape Disappointment. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The reality is that something like this could happen to me at any time. I had never been in a situation such as this in my relatively short service as a surfman. I had been on search and rescue cases in the surf, and for each of those I felt the same as this – very focused and able to do my job – as I had with this case, but there was not much to think about afterwards.

What I’m talking about is the thought of losing lives, or making a decision that results in the loss of a life, even if it was the correct decision. I can keep a cool, yet deliberate hand on the throttle, and I can do everything right and still have to watch someone die right in front of me. How do you explain that to someone when you come back to the docks? How do you look someone in the eye and tell them that you were not able to bring their loved one back, even though you did your best? How do you look at yourself in the mirror every morning and say that even though you did all you could you were unable to bring someone else’s loved one back safely? Above all else that I might encounter as a surfman, this is the one thing that I sincerely am afraid of experiencing.

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  • Alice Ann Hengesbach

    With your commitment and USCG training, you will come through each rough sea that comes your way…even this one should it occur. You will know you did your best; you did everything. No one can ask for more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Woodmangler Marc Phillips

    Train hard… pay attention to those with experience, and trust your gut. You are amongst the best, but never think those thoughts, or the sea will teach you humility and she is a stern teacher…

  • R Lyden

    Thank you Coast Guard Life Savers for being there – You provide the wish and will to survive for so many in harms way that they hold on sometimes beyond their limits because they know you will rescue them and they will live another day.

    There is no greater reward in life then to save a life.

  • Charlie

    God Bless and thank you for your service to mankind

  • http://www.facebook.com/dwillkomm Darlene R. Willkomm

    Oh My Goodness, Rob….such a responsible and trustworthy man..Know that you will always do the best job that you can..and I’m so proud to have known you when you were growing up…Thanks for all you do!

  • James L. Notheisen

    Rob, I’m glad to see that you grasped understanding from that situation. Know that I am proud of you, and what you do.
    ~ James L.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ChristianDavidSteiner Christian David Steiner

    A buddy of mine named Ross Tyrie who plays guitar in a very popular and long standing local band called Crushing Day was rescued during the recent “superstorm” that hit the east coast. The 38′ sloop they were ferrying to Barbados is now resting somewhere down there in Davey Jone’s locker. Christian is still seriously considering a career in the Coast Guard and I would love it if you would reach out to him and encourage him and share your passion for what you do! Salute!

  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.bates.167 Scott Bates

    “Spider’s”……Check your boots :P