The following is courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard Alaska 17th District:
KODIAK, Alaska — On August 21, 2022, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Brian Wereda didn’t hesitate to save a shipmate.
While enjoying a shore-based fishing outing with friends at Sweetheart Creek in southeast Alaska, Wereda noticed a member of his group, Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick Hunksaker, struggling to fish with a large dip net near a deep pool.
“I could tell the type of fishing he was doing was awkward for him,” said Wereda. “The combination of the slippery rocks and unfamiliarity of the dip net he was fishing with affected his ability to wade.”
At the time, Wereda wasn’t concerned for the safety of his friend and continued to fish, keeping Hunsaker and the rest of his group in his peripheral vision.
After a few casts and a short walk upriver, Wereda witnessed Hunksaker slip into deep water.
“He didn’t appear distressed at this point and was trying to gain his footing and prevent losing the net,” Wereda said. “I watched very closely and could tell he was in trouble when he let go of the net and drifted into a deep pool where his waders filled. This is where he became fully afloat and was circling in the eddy.”
Realizing how dangerous the situation had become, Wereda sprang into action to get to his friend as quickly as possible.
Climbing boulders and maneuvering through thick tree branches, Wereda could hear Hunsakers’ shouts for help getting louder as he got closer.
Hunksaker was being pushed down river by the extreme current and was approaching a deep pool. His waders were full of water and acted as a sea anchor withholding him from being able to swim.
“I couldn’t make very much progress on my own and the cold water started to numb my extremities,” said Hunksaker. “At this point I knew I was in serious trouble and the odds of me drowning were extremely high.”
Once Wereda was able to get near Hunsaker’s location, he began to remove some of his gear to give him a better opportunity to save his friend. While attempting to take off his waders, Wereda recognized Hunsaker was in immediate danger of drowning and decided to get in the water.
Despite the swift current of the river pushing against him, Wereda was able to grab ahold of Hunsaker, swim him to safety, and pull himself and Hunsaker onto a rock. Wereda sat along the shore with Hunsaker for ten minutes as the two gained their energy back. Wereda stated that no additional medical assistance was needed.
“Every individual moment seemed to last forever, but the experience as a whole seemed to take no time at all,” said Hunsaker. “Chief Wereda is an excellent adventurer and outdoorsman, as well as a dedicated Coast Guardsman. Without question he saved my life that day and I will be forever grateful.”
Wereda was cited for heroic achievement for the actions he took that day at the river. He was awarded the Coast Guard Commendation Medal, making it his second of its kind received while serving in the Coast Guard.
“We all recognize that working and living in Alaska is dangerous, but this award shows what happens when we trust our shipmates to look out for each other’s wellbeing,” said Lt. Catherine Cavender, Coast Guard Sector Juneau Waterways and Facilities Division Chief.
Wereda’s immediate actions saved a life and are the embodiment of the Coast Guard’s ethos. Wereda’s dedication, judgement, and devotion to duty are most heartily commended and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard.