What compels the Coast Guardsman?

Coast Guard District 13 NewsA woman is yelling. I can’t tell what she’s saying. It sounds like German. Restaurant patrons look uncomfortable, her dialogue frantic and indecipherable. I look at her red mini-van in the parking lot, double parked with the passenger door opened. A road map falls from an opened door to the ground. Oh my god, her husband must have had a heart attack.

The intuition of 21-year-old Nathaniel Ryma, a fireman at Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay, in Newport, Ore., turned out to be correct. “Everyone just stared at her. I knew something was wrong, and somebody had to act,” said Ryma. He approached and found a man in the vehicle and checked for vital signs. “He wasn’t moving. He was dead.”

The man was too large to remove from the seat so Ryma climbed in and began chest compressions. There was no decision to make. He knew what needed to be done and continued CPR for more than 25 minutes. “A lady came out and began giving him breaths, and right before the police and ambulance arrived, he began gasping for air,” said Ryma.

Response crews and vehicles arrived in a flurry of emergency lights and noise, taking over CPR and setting up for defibrillation. Ryma went back into the restaurant to await his dinner. A few minutes later the scene was as quiet as it had been before, as if nothing had happened.

The entire incident would have gone forgotten if not noticed by Sergeant Tom Simpson of the Newport Police Dept. Once the ambulance crew revived the man, Simpson returned and told Ryma that his actions had saved a life. “He was very humble and had simply stepped away when more firefighters and medics arrived, going back to his meal at a nearby restaurant,” said Simpson. Simpson later stopped by Ryma’s station and described the young fireman’s actions.

With less than a year in service, it was the first time Ryma had administered CPR. “I felt calm. The Coast Guard has trained me to be in control of a situation and handle myself well in high stress. There were a lot of people standing around that didn’t know what to do. You can’t ever assume that someone else is going to do something,” said Ryma.

On Sept. 23, 2011, In the first year of his career, Ryma saved a man’s life. He was the pivotal force in a moment of life or death. The beginning of the first chapter of his life of service.

A few miles south, another Coast Guardsman was beginning a chapter. Chief Petty Officer Ward Halstead, a Boatswains mate and veteran surfman, held his retirement ceremony at Coast Guard Station Umpqua River, Winchester Bay, Ore. It wasn’t his final unit, but the one he had been stationed at the longest, and the community he intended to live in retirement.

Halstead is a search-and-rescue icon of the Pacific Northwest. With 30 years of professional lifesaving service, he is known for his experience and light-heartedness. Halstead has been involved in countless search and rescue cases, as well as credited for training some of the best rescue personnel in his field.

Halstead and his crew rescued three crewmembers of the ocean going tug Primo Brusco after hearing a distress call at 2:24 a.m., on Dec. 30, 2002. They crossed the Umpqua River entrance bar in a 47-foot motor lifeboat with 20-foot breaking waves and 80 mph. winds, conditions on the extreme side of the vessel’s operable limitations. The tug capsized in the heavy seas. Halstead and crew searched a debris field for hours during the storm in the dark, and at dawn found three survivors in a life raft.

Years later, the charter vessel Sydney Mae attempted to cross the Umpqua River bar during inclement weather and capsized. Halstead once again got underway with a boat crew and rescued many of the passengers from the hazardous surf zone.

It isn’t only the career of Halstead that made him unique. Like Ryma, it is the impulse of taking action to help others. He spent several years in volunteer fire departments where he continued his search and rescue passion while also teaching CPR and first aid in his community. All of these things he did while balancing his Coast Guard duty.

Many coastal stations in the Pacific Northwest are located in old fishing and lumber towns. The kind of place where everybody knows everybody. Out here, if you save a life, it’s someone’s brother, someone’s husband or son, and you are probably going to run into them at the grocery store, diner and gas station.

So on Dec. 30th, Halstead departed lifesaving as his career. With the power of a will to act, the legend of Halstead will continue among the communities lining the Umpqua River, just as Ryma will likely grow in reputation as a Coast Guardsman.

A military service can take an individual and teach them many things, but a prevalence of heroes is more easily attributed to the character of those compelled to join in the first place. This good nature isn’t an eight hour a day job, it’s a life on a course. The one who acts, the one in a crowd who knows what to do and the one who is calm among chaos. For them there is no final chapter in a life of service.

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