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Hall of Unsung Heroes (Some Are Civilians)

USNS Apache responded to a shipboard fire aboard the Tahoma Reefer, an Estonian commercial freighter last August 10.

The Tahoma Reefer's engine room burst into flames while Apache was repairing the port of Monrovia, Liberia's, damaged commercial pier and surveying the city's harbor.

"When we arrived, we witnessed the deck house of the ship engulfed in flames," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Pete Sharpe. "All the crew members and the harbor pilot were on the bow, some without life jackets. We returned to our ship to get more life jackets and additional divers to assist."

"As the chief mate, warrant officer and divers removed Tahoma's crew from the starboard side, Apache approached the ship's port side and commenced fighting the fire," said the tug's civilian master, Capt. Charles Rodriguez.

Using the tug's starboard fire stations, Apache worked to put out the flames. More than four hours later, Tahoma's fire was under control. No crew members were injured during the operation.

It wasn't long before the Apache was again involved in a rescue mission. The USNS Apache rescued seven fishermen whose canoes capsized in the Atlantic Ocean just four days later, on August 14.

Apache was two nautical miles west of the harbor entrance when the ship came upon five men struggling in the water next to their canoe.

Apache's civil service master Capt. Charles Rodriguez called the Chief Mate, Troy Bruemmer and Able Seaman Jeremy Guyet, who were in the harbor aboard the ship's rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) observing pier repair operations, to respond.

"They were on scene picking the first of the five victims out of the water within 10 minutes," said Rodriguez. "They hauled the fisherman into the boat, huddled them together and covered them because they appeared to be in the first stages of hypothermia."

Bruemmer and Guyet were transiting to the port with the canoe's crew when they saw two more fishermen struggling in the water. After rescuing them, the two crew members returned all seven men to dry land.

Apache, one of Military Sealift Command's four fleet ocean tugs, provides towing, diving platforms and other services to Navy combatant ships at sea. The noncombatant ship is operated by 16 US merchant mariners employed by the Navy's Military Sealift Command.

Apache is one of MSC's 33 Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force ships, which are civil service-crewed and provide underway replenishment and other direct support to Navy combatant ships at sea.

MSC operates not only the Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force, but also 86 other civilian-crewed ships to chart ocean bottoms, conduct undersea surveillance, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military equipment and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces.--Courtesy USN European Military Sealift Command
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Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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