MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. - Stories of the events of May 3, 2014, could easily start with, "An interesting thing happened on the way to ceremony."
The day started out easy enough. The 824th Transportation Company (Heavy Watercraft) was supposed to have a reasonably simple ribbon cutting ceremony for the reopening of their pier that had been destroyed in 2011 by Hurricane Irene.
As unit Soldiers, VIPs and community members waited for the ceremony to begin, a loud explosion was heard at the civilian area of the North Carolina State Port in Morehead City.
As plumes of white smoke began to rise over the boats some 400 meters away, 824th Soldiers, trained to handle to such events, sprang into action.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Clark Patton and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kenneth Styron coordinated a response team on the Landing Craft Utility (LCU) 2028 vessel. The unit's rescue boat was lowered for deployment. Fire extinguishers and other safety items from the U.S. Army Vessel Missionary Ridge were issued to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Randy Grady and Warrant Officer Candidate Robert Wallace, who drove the rescue boat to the scene and assisted the injured with first aid until civilian authorities arrived.
Upon arrival, Grady began assessing the two injured men who had purchased the small boat the day before. He noticed that each of them had 2nd and 3rd degree burns and one was suffering from a severe concussion.
"When I pulled a little at the guy's shirt, I noticed that some of the skin [on his back] was coming with it," he said.
He instructed the victim to lie still, reassuring him that he would be taken care of by emergency medical services which were, by that time, arriving. Disoriented, the man kept asking his friend and others what had happened and what they had been doing when the explosion occurred. The other victim was also injured but more aware of what had happened and was trying to explain the event. It appeared that fuel vapors had accumulated in the confined areas of the boat after fueling and when the operators attempted to start the engine, the vapor ignited causing the explosion.
Back at the unit area, Patton and Styron directed the response team on loading up the units' Gator utility vehicle with more fire extinguishers and sending Staff Sgt. Bryan Hanlon and Spc. Paul Buelin to the scene. The Gator team came back and was assisted by Staff Sgt. Scott Dowling in loading up the Spill Response Boom and returned to contain fuel and other possible hazardous spillage in the water.
Wallace and Hanlon checked out the damage to 28-foot Carolina Classic fishing boat to make sure there were no leaks and that it wouldn't start sinking and then emplaced the containment boom.
The explosion was such that the deck of the craft was torn from the hull. The two men on the boat were found on the dock and later taken to the Carteret General Hospital hospital.
Since the ribbon cutting ceremony was only minutes from commencing, all of the attendees, which included the commander of the 377th Theater Sustainment Command, Maj. Gen. Peter Lennon, were witnesses to the quick reaction of the 824th troops.
"I was going to tell you about [another unit] from New York and how they've served, but now I don't have to," Lennon said during his speech. "Ladies and Gentlemen, right after the explosion you saw some of the crew from the 2028 boat hop on the zodiac boat and apply aid to those civilian who were just hurt."
Lennon praised the 824th and their performance adding, "That's the type of Soldiers that we have. That's the type of members that I have in the 824th, and I'm very proud of all that you have done."
Following the ceremony and tours of the USAV Missionary Ridge, Lennon presented coins to Grady, Wallace, Hanlon and Buelin