Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty: AST3 Evan Staph, LT J.D. Hess

Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Kelly Parker, Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham and Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi

Lt. John Hess, a Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter pilot, displays his Distinguished Flying Cross medal at his award ceremony on Coast Guard Base Kodiak, Alaska, Feb. 5, 2016. The Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight, was created by Congress 80 years ago and is America’s oldest military aviation award. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Steenson.

Lt. John Hess, a Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter pilot, displays his Distinguished Flying Cross medal at his award ceremony on Coast Guard Base Kodiak, Alaska, Feb. 5, 2016. The Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight, was created by Congress 80 years ago and is America’s oldest military aviation award. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Steenson.

In February 2015, when a severe winter storm was barreling down on Coast Guard crews in the Northeast, a signal for an emergency positioning radio indicator beacon went off. Approximately 150 miles south of Nantucket, Massachusetts, a father and son aboard the sailing vessel Sedona were signaling for help.

And help is exactly what they got. Almost immediately, a helicopter launched and set off into the storm, battling near-zero visibility to locate the small vessel battling 40-foot waves.

The four-man aircrew utilized their training, expertise and personal experiences to determine the best course of action to rescue the father and his son. It was an all hands on deck efforts, with support coming from the air station and on-scene efforts being made by the aircrew.

The rescue earned the crew the Capt. Frank Erickson Award, and earned each member of the crew some of the most prestigious awards given to aviators. Below, two members of the aircrew reflect on the rescue and their Service to Nation.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Evan Staph

Petty Officer 3rd Class Evan Staph joined the Coast Guard to save lives.

Raised in Dana Point, California, Staph said he grew up in the ocean. His dad still jokes to him about how he learned to surf before he could even walk.

The Distinguished Flying Cross was presented to Petty Officer 3rd Class Evan Staph (left) and the Air Medal was presented to Petty Officer 2nd Class Derrick P. Suba (right) Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, at Air Station Cape Cod for their heroic actions in February 2015 during a lifesaving rescue mission south of Nantucket. During the rescue, a Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter aircrew navigated through low visibility and near hurricane force winds to save two men aboard a sail boat disabled and adrift in 25 foot waves 150 miles south of Nantucket. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell.

The Distinguished Flying Cross was presented to Petty Officer 3rd Class Evan Staph (left) and the Air Medal was presented to Petty Officer 2nd Class Derrick P. Suba (right) Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, at Air Station Cape Cod for their heroic actions in February 2015 during a lifesaving rescue mission south of Nantucket. During the rescue, a Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter aircrew navigated through low visibility and near hurricane force winds to save two men aboard a sail boat disabled and adrift in 25 foot waves 150 miles south of Nantucket. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell.

At 16 years old, Staph became an ocean lifeguard and discovered his passion for helping people. It was a realization that would shape the rest of his life.

Despite his passion, athletic ability, and familiarity with the water, the rigorous process to become a Coast Guard rescue swimmer was an uphill battle.

“Training to be a Coast Guard rescue swimmer is humbling,” said Staph. “I realized I was not as good of a swimmer I thought I was, but I did learn how strong my will is. I wouldn’t let myself quit.”

Years later, while serving as a Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer at Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, his training, will, and determination were put to the test.

“I remember waking up to the SAR alarm,” said Staph.

Two people aboard a sailboat disabled 150 miles offshore. His stomach dropped. With seas growing to 25 feet and 60 mph winds, Staph knew this was the real deal and it was going to be tough.

The crew was nervous but their minds were focused. They fed of each others’ collective confidence. This was what they train for. As the helicopter neared the distressed boat the weather conditions became a reality.

“When we saw the boat for the first time it was hard to tell if the waves were that big, or if the boat was smaller than we expected,” said Staph. “The waves were massive.”

Staph said he tried not to think about fear, but focused on the plan. He jumped into the frigid ocean. Strong adrenaline powered his first attempted to get to the survivors.

Getting to them was a challenge. As time passed, Staph became exhausted. The cold wintry waves bore down on Staph’s body. He said he remembers thinking about how tired and cold he was, and he hadn’t even rescued anyone yet. Despite the conditions, Staph made it to the men and the first hoist was accomplished with great precision. Staph said the proficiency of the aircrew overhead kept him reassured despite his exhaustion.

During the second hoist, equipment failure resulted in the flight mechanic needing to switch to a backup. Staph was electrically shocked and momentarily knocked unconscious.

Photograph of Petty Officer 3rd Class Evan Staph. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Photograph of Petty Officer 3rd Class Evan Staph. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

“After being shocked, I didn’t know if I would be able to swim,” said Staph. “Everything hurt from my clenched teeth down to my cramped feet. I just kept kicking.”

Staph knew he didn’t have a choice. He worked through the pain and ensured the second man made it into the rescue helicopter. Staph credits his family for being the support system that keeps him going.

“My wife couldn’t be more supportive,” said Staph. “We were newly married when this happened, and it was tough on us. We were both faced with the reality of my job. Our marriage is stronger now because of this.”

Staph looks forward to his future serving in the Coast Guard.

“In ten years I want to still be saving lives,” said Staph. “I wouldn’t mind moving up in rank, or even wearing a shiny chief’s anchor on my collar. Maybe be stationed somewhere warm!”

Staph said being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross Jan. 22, 2015 as a symbol of devotion to duty, however great the cost.

Lt. J.D. Hess

The thought of flight captured the imagination of Lt. J.D. Hess at a very early age. As a kid he would spend time with this father at a local airfield where they would fly radio-controlled airplanes. With the transmitter placed firmly in his hands, ailerons gliding the tiny plane through the sky, a love for aviation was born.

It wasn’t until years later that the Coast Guard entered the picture. While on vacation in Virginia Beach, Hess witnessed a demonstration between crews of an H-65 Dolphin helicopter and 41-foot utility boat. Hess had the realization that his dreams of flying might intertwine with the Coast Guard.

Lt. John Hess, a Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter pilot, speaks with Capt. Mark Morin, commanding officer of Air Station Kodiak, about the mission he completed leading to him receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross medal, Feb. 5, 2016. Hess and his crew battled gale force winds, icing conditions and quarter-mile visibility to save the lives of a father and son stranded on their foundering vessel in 30-foot seas. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Steenson.

Lt. John Hess, a Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter pilot, speaks with Capt. Mark Morin, commanding officer of Air Station Kodiak, about the mission he completed leading to him receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross medal, Feb. 5, 2016. Hess and his crew battled gale force winds, icing conditions and quarter-mile visibility to save the lives of a father and son stranded on their foundering vessel in 30-foot seas. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Steenson.

Hess headed to a recruiter and informed him of his wish to fly for the service. But that wouldn’t happen without a degree, so Hess spent the next seven years on the surface side of the house as a boatswains mate, never giving up on his dream. A dream that turned into a reality once he applied Officer Candidate School.

“As a pilot in the Coast Guard, everyday we’re studying, training, trying to perfect our craft,” said Hess. “It’s a great job. For me, it’s a constant opportunity to help others and that’s what really drives me in the Coast Guard.”

Hess’ drive to help others culminated in 2015 during Winter Storm Neptune.

A vicious storm whipped up deadly winds and blizzard condition along the coasts of New England. Soon a mayday was transmitted 150 miles south of Nantucket and the rescue which earned Hess the Distinguished Flying Cross.

“For me it’s a tremendous honor to be able to receive that award. To actually answer that call to go out that day to help those individuals,” said Hess.   “I don’t know if it’s a call from up above or what, but it’s just something about knowing your fellow mankind is out there in need of help. Of course we want to go out and get them.”

Just the mere mention of his crew and there’s no mistaking the pride and appreciation Hess has in them; a bit more emphasis in his voice and a smile on his face.

“My co-pilot Matt Vanderslice, flight mechanic Derrick Suba and rescue swimmer Evan Staph, they all played key roles in the case. I think we had the perfect team. Everybody had equal contributions to make sure we got them safely. They were all instrumental.”

As a boatswains mate and now a pilot, Hess has experienced what few have in the Coast Guard. But there’s one thing he finds inherent in all who serve.

“Why do we as pilots, or coxswains or boatcrews want to go out and want that case?” asked Hess. “It’s the ultimate challenge. You’re absolutely tested to the max. You want to say that you did it and you were able to accomplish that mission.”

Do you know someone who embodies the Coast Guard Core Values of Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty? Please submit your nominations using the “Submit Ideas” link on the right.

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