13th MEU Personnel Saves Life Following VBSS Mission

26 Nov 2003 | Sgt. Mark P. Ledesma 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit

A Marine and a Navy officer currently deployed with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), recently showed how quick decisions and courage can keep a bad situation from spinning out of control.   

Marines and Sailors from the 13th MEU (SOC) and Expeditionary Strike Group-One recently conducted a compliant Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) mission in the Central Command region. Once the vessel they boarded was determined to pose no threat, the Marines and Sailors re-boarded their Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) for transit back to USS Port Royal. Once alongside Port Royal, getting aboard was easier said than done.

"It was a bad sea state," said Navy Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jeffery D. Fishel, Naval Gunfire Liaison Officer, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, who took part in the VBSS.  "The waves would be up one minute and down the next. There was a good 10 feet difference where you were at each time.  Grabbing a hold of the rope ladder had to be timed."

While trying to climb back aboard Port Royal, Navy Ens. Jeffery Servello lost control of the ship?s rope ladder and fell into the heaving waters.

"When he climbed up, he timed it wrong," said Fishel, who was last in line of Marines and Sailors waiting to board the vessel.  "He jumped on the ladder and the RHIB came out underneath him as the swell came down."

Servello was left holding on to the ladder under his own strength with all his gear still on.  When the RHIB leveled with Servello, it twisted him and knocked him off the ladder, said Fishel.

According to Staff Sgt. David K. Lind, team leader, 1st Force Reconnaissance, Command Element, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), who was also in the VBSS team, Servello was pinned between their boat and the Port Royal. 

To prevent Servello from possible drowning or from being crushed between the RHIB and Port Royal, Fishel and Lind quickly leaned over the side of the boat to pull Servello in to safety.

"Staff Sgt. Lind and I were located at the port aft (left end) of the RHIB," said Fishel.  "We both reached in the water to look for him."

When the two finally got a hold of him, they quickly pulled Servello back on the boat.

"When we grabbed a hold of him, he started screaming, 'You're choking me!' because we were holding on to his gear," said Fishel.  "I looked at Staff Sgt. Lind and said 'We need to get him on the boat.'  So we grabbed him and pulled him up."

"It was just a natural reaction," said Lind, a Titusville, Pa. native, referring to his quick response to the incident.

According to Fishel, as soon as the incident happened they were all looking for Servello.  In order to fish Servello out of the water, Fishel and Lind had to wedge themselves between the ship and the boat to create a gap large enough for Servello.

"We both had one arm in the water and the other pushing off on the Port Royal," said Fishel.  To keep themselves from also falling in the two used their legs to hook themselves on the RHIB.

Although the type of incident was nothing new to Fishel, who has conducted these types of missions since the Gulf War, it was still a tense few moments.

"He's a big guy and I didn't know if his gear was going to keep him afloat," he said.  "I think with the weight of his gear added on to his weight he would have gone to the bottom."

Fishel said he was scared for Servello.

"You never know what could have happened," he said.  "He could have hit his head.  When he came up and he started talking, I knew it was a good sign."

Lind, who was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his actions, said anyone in the same situation would have done the same thing. 

"I just saw him in distress," he said. "Anytime that you see someone that you have a chance to help and make a difference with, you're going to do that.  I was just the guy that was there when it happened."

13th Marine Expeditionary Unit