Q&A with Army Sgt. James Gumabon
By Mark Scott
Army Sgt. 1st Class James Gumabon, readiness noncommissioned officer for Hilitai Company, 1-294th Infantry Regiment, Guam National Guard, answered a distress call while mooring his fishing boat on Oct. 12. Gumabon talks about how his love of the water and love of service led to rescuing an adrift vessel 13 miles off the coast of Guam, in the interview below. SFC Gumabon, thanks for your actions the other day. What brings you out into the water? JG: Fishing has been my passion since I was a kid. Even though I always got seasick, I still loved being on the water. These days, fishing is what eases my mind and keeps me motivated to do what I do on a daily basis. How did you find out something was wrong that day? JG: I was out for about five hours that afternoon. After returning to port and securing the boat, I heard a distress call saying, “…he’s dead in the water and about to lose all battery power. Can anyone assist?” I immediately got on the radio and asked for his cell phone number. I figured if this person’s ship battery would die, we might be able to keep communicating by phone. What did you do after hearing the call? JG: I untied “Chamorai” and headed back out. But not before I messaged my wife to say I’m going to look for a boat in distress. All she responded with was, “Be safe”. How did you find the vessel, and what happened next? JG: The captain of the vessel said all he could see was the Governor’s office. So I asked for his coordinates and plugged it in on my GPS – he was 13.5 miles directly West of Apra harbor. I call him back and said “There is no way you can see the Governor’s office from the coordinates you just gave me. Are you sure?” Then I asked him to send me his live location on phone chat, but all it gave me was a dot on a blue map. So I proceeded dead into the 6-8’ western swells on this day.
About 30 minutes later, I get him back on the phone and asked him to send up a flare. With my radar on and spotting the flare, I was able to confirm his location. Ten minutes later, I was able to spot his 16’ vessel adrift. I just asked if he was ok with no more questions, then I threw him a rope and towed him back to Sea Plane Ramp in Apra Harbor.
It took about 90 minutes to get him back to land and safety. Later on that evening, he called to say he was home and thank you, and he asked me to meet him so he can repay me. All I said is there is no need for that, “just pay it forward brother.” What’s your role in the Guam Guard? Do you think the Guard instills the kind of values that might lead you to help others? JG: I am a husband and father of five, and also a full-time soldier with HHC, 1ST BN 294th IN REGT. When I ain’t Soldiering you can find me deep drop fishing. The Guam Army National Guard has instilled the Army values within my daily life, in this case, “Selfless Service and Personal Courage,” and groomed me to be the person I am today.
This great organization has invested so much into my career and greatly influenced the life I live and lead today. And that I will forever be grateful for and never take for granted. I can proudly say I’ve been through a few situations, whether in actual combat or training to know that I will Never Leave a Fallen Comrade. Though some gave all, they will never be forgotten. What’s your advice for anyone going out to sea? A: When boating, you can never be too prepared. Understand your equipment and its capabilities, try and go with a buddy or “battle buddy” as we do in the Army. Normally when I’m headed out, I’ll post a picture on the fishing chat with BRB (be right back) in the caption. Be mindful of the water, wind conditions, swell direction. If you experience any life-threatening situations, don’t hesitate to get on channel 16 and call U.S. Coast Guard Sector Guam. They are always on standby and ready to go, same as calling 911 for Guam Fire Department Rescue. Or if Chamorai is out on the prowl, I’ll come and get you. Anytime, anywhere!
Chamorai is named after Gumabon’s Battalion, which is nicknamed “Chamorai Battalion.” The battalion’s motto, “Maseha Ngai’an yan Manu” is the native phrase that translates to “Anytime, Anywhere.” ( Guam National GuardPublic Affairs Office)