16 Jan 2024

James Rotz: The Rescuer

James Rotz
As told to Rae Sojot | Images by John Hook | Source: Hale Issue 11

I was an adventurous, rascal kid, always in the ocean fishing, bodysurfing, and surfing. It felt like every weekend we had family, friends, and calabash cousins over to our Mākaha home. We’d transfer from the pool to the beach—back and forth all day—until we were sunburned and blistered with rash everywhere. My dad would barbecue on the grill, listening to AM 940 classic Hawaiian hits on his little Walkman. We’d wake up to those same classic Hawaiian hits in the morning too. Sometimes he’d wake me up early saying, “James, let’s go fish,” and we’d go throw some lines to catch ‘ō‘io and pāpio. I just loved being outside.

James Rotz

While my brothers were into soccer and basketball, I chose to be a Boy Scout. I liked serving others and I liked testing myself, whether it was sleeping in the dirt or out in the rain. I also liked to watch the Coast Guard helicopters fly over our house. At 10 years old, I already knew I wanted to be a Coast Guard rescue swimmer.

Becoming a rescue swimmer involves discipline, sacrifice, and dedication. The training to even get to U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer School can take years. Once in, you spend four to five hours every day in the pool, and another two to three hours training on land for five months. There’s also body weight training, hypoxic underwater training rescue, and survival training evolutions as well as written class work, emergency medical technician (EMT) training, and learning the mechanical maintenance involved with the job.

James Rotz

Rescue swimmers conduct rescue missions in maritime, urban, and mountain environments. We’re often deployed alone to assess, treat, and recover patients, survivors, or victims in emergency situations. Sometimes we’re picked up from the site right away. Other times, we’re left on scene for upwards of 24 hours and must survive on our own.

I’ve learned a lot through my job, but the most important lessons have been learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, learning to be OK with stress, and thinking outside of the box. After a while, it becomes like muscle memory, where you know what needs to be done.

I’ve been in the Coast Guard for almost ten years now, and my mom still worries about me. My dad’s proud. He is a waterman, and both my grandfathers were drafted in World War II, so I’m proud to be doing my part. If I’m working on a Saturday and I know my parents are at the Mākaha house, I like to fly over and wave to ’em.

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