Barnegat Light — In March 2018 The SandPaper reported that Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Eric Thornton had become one of the U.S. military’s elites, having been awarded a Coast Guard surfman pin, only the 533rd Coastie to qualify for that honor in his service’s long and illustrious history.
Earning a surfman pin is an arduous process. A surfman, who already has to have been certified as a coxswain and a heavy weather coxswain, is trained to make rescues in one of the most dangerous conditions the ocean can throw at a boater – heavy surf.
Now Thornton, who is stationed at Coast Guard Station Barnegat Light, has proven worthy of that honor.
“I am pleased to announce BM Eric Thornton of Station Barnegat Light as the winner of the 2018 CDR (Commander) Ray Evans Outstanding Coxswain Trophy,” read an ALCOAST (all Coast Guard) message from the Office of the Commandant of the Coast Guard on April 19. “This prestigious annual award recognizes a Coast Guard coxswain who demonstrates sustained superior performance, exceptional boat handling skills, and exemplary leadership. BM2 Thornton’s hard work and leadership were evident while performing high risk missions in a highly dynamic operating area. His example is a standard to emulate for boat forces professionals throughout the service.
“BM2 Thornton is a certified 47-foot Motor Lifeboat (MLB) Surfman, 29-foot Response Boat Small (RB-S II) Coxswain, 24-foot Special Purpose Craft-Shallow Water (SPC-SW) Coxswain, Maritime Law Enforcement (MLE)/Living Marine Resource (LMR) Boarding Officer, Station Officer of the Day (OOD), and Rescue and Survival (R&S) Systems Petty Officer.
“During 2018, BM2 Thornton amassed 305 underway hours during 156 individual sorties, and prosecuted 23 search and rescue cases as coxswain. Serving as a Boarding Officer, he conducted 43 LMR and 125 recreational boating safety boardings. Petty Officer Thornton managed an annual R&S budget of $42,000 and was directly responsible for the maintenance, procurement, and issuance/training of each member’s gear, totaling $132,000. During several noteworthy cases, BM2 Thornton demonstrated leadership and superior boat handling skills during heavy weather and also displayed mature judgment, adaptability, and agility while conducting Coast Guard operations.”
Thornton beat out a dozen other nominated coxswains to earn the prestigious trophy.
As the message shows, Thornton had a busy, productive and wide-ranging 2018. But it was one rescue in particular that might very well have tipped the scale toward Thornton in the trophy-winner selection process.
Station Barnegat Light was obviously tipped off that Thornton was the winner because on April 17, two days before the message was transmitted, it announced that he had won the award on its Facebook page. That announcement noted:
“His most notable (rescue) was while serving as the Surfman on duty at Station Barnegat Light during the case of the Trans-Continental Rowboat Sleipner on June 4th 2018. While the Vessel Sleipner was being piloted by a citizen of Scotland with the intent of crossing the Atlantic Ocean it encountered a late season Nor’Easter, which produced ten to twelve foot seas and included winds sustained at thirty knots on the treacherous Barnegat Light Inlet. Showing a tremendous dedication to seamanship and craft as a certified Surfman, Petty Officer Thornton skillfully navigated his 47-foot Motor Lifeboat to the vessel in distress through breaking waves and howling winds in pitch black darkness and safely arrived on scene to the recreational vessel Sleipner.
“Once on scene, while demonstrating superior boat handling, Petty Officer Thornton immediately took the vessel in tow and began a long and arduous transit towards the Coast. Demonstrating sound judgment, risk management and effective team coordination he successfully carried out the extrication of the vessel’s master via heaving line throw bag due to the presence of impassable rough bar conditions, which resulted in the preservation of one life during the most challenging of conditions and circumstances.
In February Thornton attended the State of the Union address as the guest of Congressman Andy Kim. Thornton lives with his wife in Manahawkin, part of Kim’s New Jersey 3rd Congressional District.
“It’s an incredible honor to have Petty Officer Thornton as the guest of the people of New Jersey’s Third District at the State of the Union,” said Kim at the time. “Petty Officer Thornton represents thousands across our district who have dedicated their lives to serving their country. As we take time this week to reflect on the state of the union, it’s important that we rededicate ourselves to serving those who put the lives on the line to keep our country safe.”
Kim specifically mentioned Thornton’s June 2018 rescue when announcing he was going to be the congressman’s guest at President Trump’s speech.
— Rick Mellerup