Braving rough seas: An exclusive look inside the Coast Guard's toughest job

On the banks of Cape Cod, Air Station Cape Cod is home to the Coast Guard's aviation unit.

Rescuers here face it all.  You don't have to look far to see bold examples of what they do.

In November of last year, rescue swimmer Mike Kelly battled 20-foot waves off the coast of Maine to save four fishermen who abandoned ship after their boat started taking on water.

Kelly admits it's a tough job.

"It's hard to become a rescue swimmer and once you do, the job is great," said Kelly.

Hard is an understatement.

Their training program is one of the most challenging in the US military. 80% of those who pursue it end up dropping out.

We wanted to see the job up close.  The Coast Guard unit on Cape Cod invited Boston 25 News Anchor Blair Miller to see what they see.  He spent weeks preparing and practicing with the gear and training in the pool.  The Coast Guard wanted to make sure he could handle swimming in the middle of the ocean for an extended period of time.

"We want to make sure you're comfortable in the water.  We want to make sure that what we do in the helicopter and when you go out with us, that it's a safe evolution," said Kelly.

As we headed out to sea for the training exercise, we mounted several cameras on the inside of the helicopter. We also used Sky25 to see from above. The training was conducted about two miles off the coast.  Initially, the Coast Guard helicopter hovered about 400 feet above water.  They then lowered down to about 30 feet above water to hoist Miller down into the ocean.

Rescue Swimmer Kelly went in first.  Then they lowered Miller down into the water while the mechanic on board called the shots.  "Sitting in the door, it's loud windy and chaos," said Kelly.  "Once you're down below the helicopter, it's something you really can't prepare for until you've actually been in it," he said.

Miller said that once he was put in the water and under the helicopter, it was hard to see much of anything because of the wind from the helicopter, churning up waves and pushing him below the water.

Kelly says the hardest part of his job can be trying to save someone who's scared or facing a traumatic injury.  "Everybody's concern in the Coast Guard is going home to their families.  So my actual job part isn't the dangerous part," said Kelly.   "I want to go home to my wife and kids and I think everyone else wants to go home to their wife and kids.  I think we work and train to make that happen," he said.

>> More of Blair's work with the Coast Guard:

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