United States Coast Guard pilot Lt. Greg Snow was recently recognized for his part in saving the lives of four people in a rescue at sea after they had been forced to abandon their boat off the coast of Florida.
A father, his two young sons and a family friend were fishing when their boat began to take on water. The Coast Guard received a distress signal from a personal locating beacon on the boat and dispatched an airplane search crew from the Miami base to check it out.
The abandoned boat was located about two hours later. The search was expanded and the four were spotted in the open sea about 25 miles off Port Canaveral, wearing their life jackets and uninjured. A Coast Guard response boat retrieved the family who asked to meet those responsible for their rescue to express their gratitude.
Snow was the aircraft commander of the search plane that spotted the boaters. He said there was a “roar of excitement” from the air crew when they spotted the survivors, followed by a great sigh of relief.
“It was a very powerful and emotional moment to meet the family, but there was no need for thanks– God was watching out for them,” Snow said. “Our crew was just doing our job, doing what we were trained to do, using the tools God gave us.”
Snow grew up in Bonsack, played Terrier football, and graduated from William Byrd High School in the Class of 2005. His goal was to attend a military school– he loved the structured, disciplined life that a military school offered and wanted to serve his country.
He chose the Citadel in Charleston, S.C., mainly because he was a boating and water enthusiast and loved the coast. When he graduated with a degree in Business Administration, he decided to enter the military– something that only about 30 percent of Citadel graduates elect to do. He had always been interested in the Coast Guard.
He applied for the rigorous 17-week Coast Guard Officer Candidate School program and was disappointed not to be admitted.
The economy was tough in 2009, so when Snow wasn’t accepted into Officer Candidate School, he accepted a job with Maersk in Los Angeles in container shipping, doing logistics and warehouse management.
He was there for not quite two months, when he received a call for an even more prestigious Coast Guard appointment. He was offered a direct commission into the Coast Guard– one of only five selected for the month-long Direct Commission Selected School (DCSS) program– which is a fast track to becoming an officer for those who can demonstrate outstanding character and scholarship. Snow attributes his appointment to his Citadel background.
Upon completing the DCSS program, he was permitted to choose his first duty station by ranking his preferences on a “shopping list,” and picked Puerto Rico, stationed in San Juan. He remained there for three and a half years in a “great job in boarding and security, traveling all over the Caribbean.” Some of his duties involved checking container ships and tankers coming into San Juan’s port for terrorists, bombs, and illegal personnel, and patrolling the coastline for drug runners coming from the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
He came into contact with Coast Guard pilots while stationed in Puerto Rico, took some flights with them, and thought they had the “coolest job in the world.” A dream was born of becoming a pilot himself.
Snow took a flight aptitude test, went through medical screening, applied for Coast Guard flight school and was one of only 19 selected from a large pool of 45 applicants.
He now flies a CASA HC 144-A Ocean Sentry patrol aircraft which carries a crew of six, doing search and rescue and maritime patrol missions, including homeland security, drug interdiction, marine environmental control, and transporting cargo and personnel.\
At age 31, he is one of the younger pilots and says he is honored with the privilege of flying the search plane (cost $44 million) and the trust that has been placed in him.
The aircraft commander and a co-pilot work in the front of the plane– which position they take on each flight depends upon seniority– with four crew members in the rear. Snow says the entire crew works as a team with “great camaraderie.”
Two crew members man the search radar and infrared camera, which Snow says can detect the heat off an outboard engine. The other two are basic airmen who can drop rafts, pumps, gear, and other supplies out the back of the plane.
Their territory covers the entire Caribbean and into Mexico, Cuba, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and as far south as Aruba and the Lesser Antilles.
Snow says his job has lots of unknowns, but their goal is ultimately to save lives and help those in need. He said he always has an overnight bag with him because he never knows where he might end up each day. The plane can fly for eight hours on a tank of fuel, which covers a lot of territory.
He identifies one personality trait he possesses that is most useful in his job– he has always been “laid-back and easygoing,” not subject to feeling high stress and anxiety.
His job doesn’t involve boarding boats that might hold drugs or illegal immigrants. He and the crew are “eyes in the sky” who stay connected with the Coast Guard members on the water who move in if something suspicious is spotted. Their camera is “so high-tech it can read a tag on a shirt.”
Snow said he loves his job because it is “spontaneous, ever changing; every day as a pilot is completely different; there is no typical day.” He said he is living a blessed life, able to live out his dream, getting to travel. He quotes that old adage from Confucius, “If you choose a job you love, you will never work a day in your life.”
Snow said he gets back to the Vinton area to visit his parents, Sam and Trish Snow, a couple of times a year, with his wife, Natalie, and infant daughter. He and wife met while he was in flight school.
He isn’t sure if he will make the Coast Guard a 20-year career, but he is sure his career will always involve flying, as “life slows down when you leave the ground.” This is his fourth year in Miami; he may be transferring to another duty station next year.
Snow said he didn’t deploy in recent hurricanes but has been working on scheduling of rescue-involved missions. Most recently he was scheduled to fly to Cuba, then Puerto Rico, then the Dominican Republic and back, to transport a high security team to protect residents from looting and violence.
He and his crew typically fly in security personnel and supplies on cargo logistic missions in crisis situations. They also do med-evacs, moving those at risk to higher-level care facilities.
As for illegal immigrants, Snow said that most frequently they find immigrants from Cuba trying to relocate north who have become lost at sea in flimsy boats or on rafts. The Coast Guard’s focus is on saving lives, not on the legalities.
In fact, Snow said he chose the Coast Guard instead of the Navy because the Coast Guard focus is on rescue, “We just want to help people, an emotion like no other.”