From Mother to Mayday

OS3 Williams and SNOS Shudark review a distress call and the Rescue 21 Display.

OS3 Williams and SNOS Shudark review a distress call and the Rescue 21 Display.

Often times it can be just a moment: A small, “Help,” comes across a radio channel and then is gone. A lost soul adrift in the ocean wondering if anyone heard her or if anyone knows she is out there.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephenie R. Williams, an operations specialist at Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads, knows all too well how catching that faint call can make the difference between life and death. As an operations specialist she has to remain calm and help those in need, despite the stress and emotional impact of her career.

Every day at the Sector Hampton Roads command center there are calls coming in: boaters giving their status, Coast Guard assets, boaters hailing each other and of course, distress calls.

Williams monitors several marine radio channels for any signs of emergency, a task that can be daunting. As soon as a call comes through, Rescue 21, a system of towers set up to triangulate caller locations, helps locate the caller.

A mother of two, Williams recalls with tears one case in particular.

An aunt and nephew went swimming and became too fatigued to make it back to shore. The aunt was able to be rescued but it was not until later that rescue forces found the young boy drowned. It was shortly after Williams became a new mother.

“I can’t imagine telling his mother the news,” said Williams, wiping away tears.

During the case she couldn’t help but think of her own newborn son, however, she said her job is to remain calm and ready to assist no matter what. During the whole case, she kept focused.

Whenever a distress call comes in, Williams helps the person in distress convey the most immediate and important information: nature of their distress, description of their vessel, number of people aboard, if children are involved, the boat’s location, and if life jackets are available and in use. Despite whatever thoughts and emotions are going through her mind she has to remain calm.

“That’s what you signed up for,” said Williams. “They’re relying on us for help.”

So every day, holidays and weekends, there remains a voice ready on the other end of the radio. No matter how bad the storm or dire the situation, they remain calm and ready to help provide assistance to those in need.

“Do something good, something with purpose,” said Williams on why she chose to become an OS.

That’s exactly what Williams does every day.