Soldiers' Stories Statement
Former Petty Officer Second Class Aaron McCollum, U.S. Coast Guard, Marine Safety and Security Task Force, veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom; Marina del Rey, CA, May 2008
48”x 48” Chromogenic Color Print

After 9/11, I was approached by my commanding officer to be a member of the MSST [Marine Safety and Security Team], an antiterrorism/counterterrorism security unit being put together at the request of the Central Command Headquarters in Washington, DC. Very quickly we had all these weapons delivered to us: the black tactical suits (stuff that the Navy Seals use), special radar boats, night vision goggles, the whole nine yards.

Once we got intel that there were going to be “unfriendlies” [anyone who poses a threat] and a possible bombing at this big public event up in Washington state. We had just established a security zone when these people basically did a blockade between us and the naval and civilian ships we were protecting. We had to get them out. A few of them were Middle Eastern and, unfortunately, at that time anybody Middle Eastern was considered a target. They became very volatile when we came up alongside. We were outnumbered—there were three of us and maybe 30 of them. They were on six or seven boats all tied together and anchored.

While I was talking to the one that appeared to be the “top dog,” I heard screaming, looked over, saw this woman in the water, and reached down to grab her. I’m guessing she somehow had fallen overboard. Everything kind of went into slow motion while I kept reaching for her and trying to get these guys off of me. It was complete chaos—complete, absolute chaos. I couldn’t feel her. I remember thinking, “I just lost another one.” During my many years doing search and rescue, I had been unable to save many people. I gave it one last try—I leaned over as far as I could without going overboard and was able to grab onto her hair and got her pulled up.

Jennifer Karady met Aaron McCollum at the Highways Theater in Santa Monica, CA, where he and other veterans residing in the “Dom” (Domiciliary) were participating in a performance. The Dom is a residential rehabilitation treatment program on the West Los Angeles VA campus that provides comprehensive healthcare in a therapeutic environment and aims to prepare veterans for reentry into the community.

This text was transcribed and edited from interviews conducted by Jennifer Karady in February 2008.

© Jennifer Karady 2016, all rights reserved.