Coast Guard Strong – O’Rian’s story

Written by Chief Petty Officer Kyle Niemi

The Jolley family with members of the Coast Guard's Ceremonial Honor Guard

The Jolley family with members of the Coast Guard’s Ceremonial Honor Guard

We all experience challenges in our lives. Some are minor inconveniences, while others are much more considerable. In the heat of a moment, some of those minor inconveniences come off as more troubling than they really are. How often have you met an obstacle, “made a mountain out of a molehill” as the saying goes, and later realized that you needn’t have worried as much as you did?

We also don’t always realize how good we have things, until we come face-to-face with someone facing real challenges.

Imagine being diagnosed with several disorders affecting the brain and esophagus. These disorders affect how you sleep, eat and even breathe. They limit your food intake, give you seizures and severe migraines, and weaken your muscles.

Now, imagine having to deal with all these medical complications at the age of 9.

O'Rian and his Kodiak friends

O’Rian and his Kodiak friends

O’Rian Jolley was born in 2005 and was quickly diagnosed with hydrocephalus and severe gastro-esophageal reflux disease. He would eat through a gastrostomy tube (g-tube) and be connected to heart monitors for the first year of his life. After that, he was diagnosed with narcolepsy, spastic bladder and eosinophilic esophagitis, the latter of which makes him unable to eat many foods, such as eggs, milk, wheat, soy, nuts and fish.

This year, he was diagnosed with primary carnitine deficiency and mitochondrial diseases of the brain.

But, none of this has stopped him from working towards his dream of being a Coast Guardsman when he grows up!

O’Rian’s mother Sarah Jolley says that once her son saw the 2006 movie The Guardian, a drama about Coast Guard aviation survival technicians, he knew exactly what he was going to do.

Training with the rescue swimmers at Air Station Kodiak

Training with the rescue swimmers at Air Station Kodiak

“He has been practicing swimming and jumping off the diving board,” she said. “I am so excited for him to be able to be whatever he wants to be!”

So, what does O’Rian’s dad, Air Force Staff Sgt. Wayne Jolley, say about his son’s admiration of the Coast Guard?

“Wayne actually helps encourage his dreams to be in the Coast Guard,” his mom said. “Wayne believes O’Rian can do and be anything he wants to be.”

In fact, O’Rian got to visit Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, where parts of the movie take place, to experience life as a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. It was 2013, when O’Rian’s father was assigned to Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.10-25-13 O'Rian with his Best Bud Mr. Tom, telling him  about what is about to happen (6)

When the family arrived in Kodiak, they were met by then-Petty Officer 1st Class Tom Bolen, an AST assigned to the air station. O’Rian would accompany “Mr. Tom” for the duration of his visit, which took him everywhere from the pool to the hangar to the flightline to the AST shop. He participated in several types of in-water training with the rescue swimmers got to get close up to the air station’s various airframes – the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, the MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and the HC-130 Hercules airplane – and joined the rescue swimmers as they went about their day-to-day work. After the rescue swimmers ran him through a final fitness test, he was made an honorary rescue swimmer and presented with several gifts, including a The Guardian movie poster many of them signed and a swim fin that they also signed. To O’Rian’s Air Station Kodiak ballcover, Mr. Tom affixed his aviation rescue swimmer insignia pin.

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Z tells the XO he’s seen a BIG Coast Guard boat

10-25-13 O'Rian Standing with a swimmer that just got  backSince they departed Alaska, Staff Sgt. Jolley transferred to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, just northeast of Las Vegas, in August 2014 via an Exceptional Family Member Program/Special Needs transfer. Then, as it became clear that O’Rian would need more specialized care than was available in Nevada, the family transferred again to Andrews Air Force Base, just outside of Washington, D.C., in April 2015. At Andrews, Jolley serves as a vehicle mechanic at the 11th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

When O’Rian’s mother Sarah became one of the squadron’s key spouses, a program similar to our own ombudsman program, she got to know the head key spouse Shelby Renninger. Once Renninger learned that Sarah’s son was enamored with the Coast Guard, she insisted she put Sarah in touch with her mother, Command Master Chief Leilani Cale-Jones, the deputy master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard.

The Jolley family is greeted by Station Washington's ferocious guard dog, Buzz.

The Jolley family is greeted by Station Washington’s ferocious guard dog, Buzz.

Once Cale-Jones was sent a photo of O’Rian headed into the hospital for treatment wearing a Coast Guard ballcover, covered in a Coast Guard blanket, and holding a Coast Guard teddy bear, she knew she had to do something to boost his spirits and adequately welcome him to his DC-based Coast Guard family.

That welcome was primarily organized by Lt. Matthew Merical, the executive officer of Coast Guard Station Washington, D.C., located on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling.

On June 24, the entire Jolley family – father Staff Sgt. Jolley, mother Sarah, O’Rian and his brothers Tristan and Zariph – visited Station Washington. They were met by the entire crew – including the executive officer and Lt. Celina Ladyga, the commanding officer – as well as Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steve Cantrell and Cale-Jones.

Once introductions were made, the family was taken on a tour of the station – the radio room, messdeck and berthing areas. After that, the station’s search-and-rescue alarm went off, alerting the duty crew to a possible person in the water.

The evolution was only a drill, so O’Rian and his entire family were ushered to the pier, donned lifejackets, and launched aboard one of the station’s response boats, along with Merical.

Safety brief

Safety brief

While enroute, O’Rian and his brothers acted as lookouts, reporting all contacts to the boat coxswain, Petty Officer 1st Class Derek Waters. O’Rian would also communicate on the VHF-FM marine radio with the station watchstander and the unit’s other smallboat crew, who were already underway.

As they neared the position of the reported person in the water, a rescue helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Washington assisted with spotting the rescue dummy representing the PIW.

O’Rian would be handed another radio handset and thanked the crewmembers for their assistance. Specifically, he thanked Mr. Tom. (Although Tom Bolen is now a chief petty officer and is still assigned to Air Station Kodiak, O’Rian cannot be convinced that he isn’t onboard every Coast Guard helicopter he sees.)

Once on scene, O’Rian and his brothers would assist response boat crewmember, Petty Officer 3rd Class MaryAnderson Billue, with recovering the dummy.

Under the tutelage of coxswain BM1 Waters

Under the tutelage of coxswain BM1 Waters

With the mission a success, the boatcrew headed back to the station, and O’Rian was given the opportunity to take the controls. Guided by the coxswain, Waters, O’Rian would accelerate. “Coming up!” he warned everyone onboard.

He took some turns. “Coming to port! … Coming to starboard!”

Once Waters had the controls back, he piloted the response boat back to the station’s pier and everyone went inside.

In the station training room, Merical conducted a mission debrief. Then, similar to the Jolley family’s visit to Kodiak, a series of presentations were made.

O’Rian was given a Station Washington T-shirt, ballcover and challenge coin, a Sector Baltimore challenge coin and a printed picture of one of the station’s response boats patrolling near the National Mall, with the Washington Monument in the background, signed by the station crew.

Fist-bump for earning boat crewman qual

Fist-bump for earning boat crewman qual

Then, since he completed many of the qualifications, O’Rian was presented with a response boat crewmember qualification certificate.

Cantrell and Cale-Jones gave O’Rian and each of his brothers their own challenge coins. Cantrell would also give O’Rian a coxswain insignia pin and one of his three-star MCPOCG collar devices.

O’Rian was also given a Coast Guard lifering as a keepsake. Finally, Cantrell and Cale-Jones gave each of the boys Coast Guard models and toys.

Before departing, the Jolley family had one more surprise. Leaving out of the backdoor of the unit, they were met by a component of the Coast Guard’s Ceremonial Honor Guard, who performed a silent drill demonstration, but only after gifting O’Rian with a pair of the iconic Honor Guard “aviator” sunglasses.

150624-G-KJ067-280Following goodbye hugs and high-fives, the Jolley family departed Station Washington, as the crew was sure to let them know they were welcome back anytime and that they would visit O’Rian if he ever needed cheering up in the hospital.

O’Rian’s mom says he couldn’t pick a favorite part of the day and summed up the entire experience by simply saying “The best day ever!”

“Thanks to all involved,” Sarah said. “You did more than I could even imagine. For you to take time out of your busy schedule to help make this happen for a 9-year-old boy and his family … I am in complete awe!”

Since then, Sarah has shared photos of O’Rian’s bedroom. His new photos, lifering and Station Washington ballcover hang above his bed … and above the feeding pump, which is necessary these days to ensure he gets sufficient caloric intake despite his dietary restrictions.150624-G-KJ067-337

O’Rian has been very sick since earlier this year, so much so that he hasn’t been to school since March. One thing that helps him stay motivated and positive as he’s headed into the hospital for more treatment: his parents tell him to stay “Coast Guard Strong.”

It’s been O’Rian’s indomitable spirit that’s captured the hearts of the Coast Guardsmen at Air Station Kodiak and Station Washington – two units separated by 4,000 miles and a friendly, decades-long “surface vs. aviation” rivalry – who have been fortunate enough to meet him.

"Someone please help me"

“Someone please help me”

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O’Rian and his parents Sarah and Wayne Jolley

O'Rian asleep in his Coast Guard-decorated bedroom

O’Rian asleep in his Coast Guard-decorated bedroom

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