By Staff Sgt. Charles Cramer, Warrior Transition Battalion, and Lisa M. Medrano, PAO, IACHMarch 24, 2009
FORT RILEY, Kan. - A Warrior Transition Battalion Soldier credited risk mitigation and quick action for saving his life.
Feb. 13, Staff Sgt. Charles Cramer and his neighbor decided to go fishing for blue catfish that were said to be biting in the channels of Milford Lake, near Wakefield, Kan. The two spent the night before preparing Cramer's 1971, 12-foot Larson All-American boat for the early morning fishing trip. Cramer checked and tried on life vests, checked the hull, paperwork and licensing, the battery and outboard, and even called for local weather conditions.
"Thank God for pre-combat checks," Cramer said. "I thought I was thinking through every possible scenario or situation that could arise during the fishing trip."
The two arrived at the Milford Lake boat ramp around 4 a.m. and completed last minute preparations before hitting the water. There were small ripples on the water around the loading dock, Cramer said, but nothing the boat had not been in before. Near the shoreline, the water was shallow, so Cramer used the trolling motor to get to deeper water. After firing up the outboard, Cramer noticed it started to get really windy. He estimated they were about 500 meters from the boat ramp and in deep water.
The wave size continued to increase as they traveled down the causeway.
"I had to make the decision to ride out the waves to stay and fish, in hopes the weather would calm down," Cramer said, "or head back to the ramp and call the fishing trip a loss."
Cramer chose to head back. He donned his life jacket and told his neighbor to follow suit. Cramer said he navigated through the waves by calculating precise placement of his boat in the rising and falling swells and felt that capsizing his boat was a real possibility.
The size of the waves, howling wind and cold made the ramp seem father than it was, he said.
Finally back at the ramp, Cramer's neighbor ran to get the truck to get the boat out and loaded.
However, the waves by the shoreline had increased, causing Cramer and his boat to slam against the rocks. Cramer said he was scared and the water came over the sides of the boat, sinking it.
The amount of water was so great the bilge pump didn't have a fighting chance, he said. It took hours to get the boat out of the lake, and Cramer was wet, tired and shaken at what could have been a disaster.
No fish were caught and the boat was eventually recovered with minor damage.
"We didn't have to swim, and we're alive to fish another day," Cramer said.
Cramer said had recently attended a Composite Risk Management course and passed the state boating safety exam. He credited the culture of safety within his unit for helping him think safety and contributed it to helping him make the right decision.