SURABAYA, Indonesia – Army Mariners assigned to 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary) aboard the LCU 2032 Palo Alto rescued an overboard fisherman 10 miles off the western coast of Obi Island, Indonesia Sept. 1, 2023.
Sgt. Seth Leonard, a watercraft engineer, was on the bridge of the ship when he observed the typical calm waters in the path of the ship were more active than usual.
“I noticed what looked like someone waving their arms, which is the signal for distress in water,” said Leonard. “I grabbed my binoculars to see if my eyes were playing tricks on me and that’s when I saw someone about 1.5 miles directly in front of us.”
The vessel’s skipper, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Richard Cordero, was on the bridge when Leonard yelled out. Cordero grabbed his binoculars and confirmed Leonard’s positive identification. He followed by promptly announcing the man overboard rescue operation across the ship’s PA system.
“We practice these drills regularly; we literally train for this specific situation,” said Cordero. “At that point, saving the man overboard became our number one priority and everyone just kicked into action.”
Staff Sgt. Aaron Shapero, an enlisted mate, carefully steered the flat bottom Palo Alto toward the distressed man.
“Shapero maneuvered the vessel quickly in order to keep sight of the victim. He did an outstanding job at ensuring the safety of the rescue team and making sure the Palo Alto was at a safe distance from the man overboard,” said Cordero.
Within minutes, Spc. Daniel Renteria, leading seaman, began preparing the fast rescue boat for launch. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Israel Maleck, chief engineer, lowered the boat to the water.
The rescue team led by Sgt. 1st Class Stefen Valencia, assistant chief engineer, steered the boat to their target while Spc. Brandon Feuston, an engineman, braced himself along the side of the boat waiting to get close enough to bring the fisherman aboard.
“As we neared the victim, we noticed he was keeping himself afloat by holding onto a plastic cooler lid,” said Valencia. “It was about the size of a boogie board. I’m pretty sure that lid is what kept him alive”
Feuston pulled the fisherman into their rescue boat and Valencia steered the trio back to the Palo Alto.
As a precautionary measure, Cordero positioned guards along the ship’s bow to keep a watchful eye of their surroundings throughout the whole operation.
The crew transferred the man to the vessel and escorted him to the ship’s sick bay where Spc. Kristy Moore, the ship’s medic, performed a routine examination while also offering him dry clothes.
“He was of course thirsty and hungry, and very lethargic,” said Moore. “But most of all, I think he felt relieved and just grateful that we found him. It’s definitely a sea story we’ll tell for a long time.”
He was provided food and water prepared by Sgt. Ryan Coward and Spc. Carlos Benavidez, both culinary specialists assigned to 564th Quarter Master Company, 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The crew used Google Translate on their phones to communicate with Hassan.
“We were able to overcome the language barrier and get enough information to pass a report up to our higher headquarters,” said Cordero. “We were able to get his name, confirm he was an Indonesian fisherman, that his boat capsized, and that he was out there at least overnight.”
Cordero notified his leadership they rescued a man overboard and requested help with the procedures to transfer him back home.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jason Earl, marine deck officer and Army watercraft planner for 8th Theater Sustainment Command, bridged the gap for the Palo Alto and coordinated for the Indonesian Navy to receive Hassan through support from the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.
When the Indonesian Navy ship KRI Panah-626 arrived, they presented the crew with a plaque for their actions and thanked the crew for rescuing one of their countrymen.
The praise didn’t stop with the sailors aboard the KRI Panah-626, leaders across U.S. Army Pacific shared in the sentiment as word of the Palo Alto’s deed spread across the command.
“When I read the report Chief Cordero sent up, it highlights what it means to be an Army Soldier,” said Maj. Gen. Jered Helwig, commander, 8th Theater Sustainment Command. “I believe Soldiers have an inherent desire to make a difference and do the do the right thing and this demonstrates just that. I’m extremely proud of the entire Palo Alto crew.”
For Cordero and his crew, their collective actions contributed to saving a man’s life, a feat none of them could have envisioned when they started their day.
“As mariners, that’s one of our duties, we have the obligation to save a life if there is someone in distress,” said Cordero. “I’m really proud of how the crew reacted. Everyone demonstrated they are professional mariners.”
The LCU 2032 Palo Alto was en route to Japan from Australia after completing sustainment operations in support of 8th Theater Sustainment Command during Talisman Sabre 2023. The Palo Alto is part of the Army’s Preposition Stock 4 inventory.