On the night of October 6, 2016, USCG boatswain’s mate Jacob Hylkema volunteered to jump into the cold Pacific Ocean near Long Beach, Washington and swim to the aid of a sailor who’s legs had been wrapped in a heaving line during rescue. Battling 18- to 20-foot breaking seas, Hylkema swam more than 150-feet to reach and cut the man free. The two men were then picked up by a USCG 52-foot motor lifeboat, the Invincible.
The AFRAS Gold Medal is awarded annually to a Coast Guard enlisted member who exhibited exceptional courage and heroism during a rescue at sea.
Hylkema is cited for extraordinary heroism on that fateful October night, while serving as a crewmember aboard the 52-foot Motor Lifeboat Invincible, during the rescue of the master of the sailing vessel Grace. Here’s the account from the USCG:
The Grace was transiting from Tacoma, Washington, to San Francisco, California, when it was caught in a storm off Long Beach, Washington. Considering weather conditions and structurally weak deck, it was decided to have the master wear an immersion suit, anchor the vessel, then evacuate into the water to be pulled to safety. Unfortunately, the master’s legs became wrapped in the heaving line, with only a life ring keeping his head above water.
Hylkema volunteered to deploy as a surface swimmer battling 18 to 20-foot breaking seas, swimming more than 150 feet to the sailor in order to cut him free and remained in the water as the MLB crew recovered the barely coherent master first.
“I’m honored daily to work with some of the finest men and women in the Coast Guard, and I am extremely proud of Hylkema’s heroism to freely give of himself in such a way as to bring honor to his family, those he serves with, and the Coast Guard,” said Chief Warrant Officer Cheston Evans, commanding officer, Station Grays Harbor.
The award will be presented to Hylkema at a ceremony held at the Rayburn Congressional Office Building, Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2017.
The motor life boat used in this rescue is one of four in the Coast Guard, with each being more than 50-years-old. These unique vessels are all located in the Pacific Northwest and each is known for its exceptional sea-keeping and rescue capabilities that far exceed that of the newer vessels when facing breaking surf and hurricane force winds. The four vessels are named Invincible, Triumph, Victory and Intrepid, and are stationed in Grays Harbor, Cape Disappointment, Yaquina Bay, Oregon, and Coos Bay, Oregon. They are the only Coast Guard vessels smaller than 65-feet in length that have official names.