ABOARD USS HARRY S. TRUMAN, At Sea (NNS) -- As he was lowered into the chilly waters of the Mediterranean Sea, Aviation Warfare System Operator 1st Class (AW/NAC) Jeremy Burkart knew that all his years of rigorous training had led up to this intense moment of truth.
With only a chemical light to guide him through the darkness, he found and saved one of two pilots from a SA.330 Puma helicopter that went down during a replenishment-at-sea early last week. But it wasn't easy.
"As soon as I got in the water, I was lowered into an oil slick," he said. "I was covered in jet fuel from the helo and I couldn't see anything through my mask."
With his face mask on his forehead and his eyes almost swollen shut from the oil fumes, Burkart managed to find the downed pilot and get him safely on the helicopter.
Burkart recalls the intenseness of his first real rescue. "The adrenaline was definitely flowing," he said. "As soon I hit the water, though, it went away, because now I was anxious to get to the survivor. Now that I was in the water, I could react."
As part of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (HS) 7, Burkart is a search and rescue swimmer (SAR) aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), trained to undertake different types of rescue operations. From night rescues and medical evacuations to combat search and rescue missions, for Burkart it's all part of his "daily grind," which is anything but routine.
"When I joined the Navy, I wanted to do something that was a physical challenge and was going to push me," he said. "That's what I enjoy the most about doing this. Anything can change with our job, so it's not a nine to five everyday. One day we might rescue a helo pilot, and the next day we might do a medivac from another ship. Our job could change at a moment's notice."
The whole rescue operation lasted about 45 minutes, but according to Burkart, the pilot was rescued just in time. "He was shivering and had been in the water for over an hour. I could tell he was near hypothermia," he said. "Getting him out of the water was my main concern."
Saving a life is something that Burkart attributes to the rigorous training all SAR swimmers undertake. "It's a great feeling, no doubt about it, because we train and train so that we're prepared when we get the call for an actual operation," he said. "Granted, it took me 10 years, but it's awesome, and I couldn't imagine doing anything else."
For related news, visit the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn75.