One of the Coast Guard’s Aviation Survival Technicians, otherwise known as a Rescue Swimmer, was called by President Biden on Friday and congratulated for his recent actions in saving numerous individuals who were affected by Hurricane Ian in Florida.
While we only have 14 seconds of their conversation, AST2 Zack Loesch spoke to the President for close to seven minutes.
President Biden called Loesch because of his actions on Thursday as he and his crew saved multiple lives in the Fort Myer, FL area along with fellow rescue swimmers and crews. Loesch is stationed at Air Station Clearwater, FL. They moved their base of operations to West Palm Beach in anticipation of Ian’s path into Clearwater.
While conducting rescue operations on two of the islands off the coast of Fort Myers, which were inaccessible except by boat or helicopter, Loesch and his crew went to work within minutes of arriving by hoisting people out of the area onto their MH-60 Jay Hawk helicopter and delivering them to the Hertz Arena parking lot in Fort Myers.
One of the houses they arrived at had an older couple whose roof was torn off. They were stuck in a back bedroom because a couch had been lifted up by the hurricane and positioned in such a way that they were unable to exit. The woman is disabled and uses a specialized wheelchair tailored to her individual needs. Because of the inaccessibility, Loesch was forced to tear through the wall to gain access to the room. He was successful in retrieving the man and woman plus their dog. Loesch even went back and attached a hoist to her wheelchair and hauled it and himself out so the woman would be able to get around once they were evacuated.
Loesch is being hailed as a hero along with the rest of his crew, and rightfully so. However, Loesch was set to sit down with his chain of command and receive his impending, involuntary discharge from the Coast Guard. He, along with four other rescue swimmers at Air Station Clearwater, are unvaccinated. Loesch submitted a Religious Accommodation (RA) to the Coast Guard, but it was denied. The Coast Guard is already understrength in regards to Rescue Swimmers, plus the training is very difficult and has an incredibly high attrition rate.
If all unvaccinated Rescue Swimmers at Clearwater Air Station are discharged, it will remove a substantial portion of their already understaffed rescue capability. This would greatly impact the Coast Guard’s ability to conduct operations during catastrophes such as Hurricane Ian. There are approximately 22 Rescue Swimmers Coast Guard wide who are unvaccinated as well. The impact will be felt the heaviest by American Citizens who rely on the Coast Guard’s unmatched rescue capabilities.
If Hurricane Ian had arrived only two weeks later, Loesch may have already been giving his discharge date. As it stands, he was too vital to the Coast Guard’s operations, and the people whose lives he saved on Thursday can readily attest to that. The irony of President Biden calling to congratulate and thank Loesch as a hero, yet he’s currently on the chopping block and set to be discharged in the not too distant future, is stark. Critical and life saving capabilities are being tossed aside for an order the President didn’t give. It was, in fact, the Secretary of Defense who issued the order, and his order clearly stated that the mandate would be fulfilled by an FDA approved vaccine, of which the DOD and DHS don’t have.