Archive for Thursday, April 1, 2004

We saved 109 lives’

Basehor man Mike Nemchik part of Coast Guard rescue that saved migrants abandoned on the open sea

April 1, 2004

Some people would list saving a life or stopping the distribution of illegal drugs as accomplishments of a lifetime. Basehor man Mike Nemchik calls it the month of February.

Nemchik, 26, a 1996 graduate of Basehor-Linwood High School, is an electrician and crewmember of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter, Active. During a patrol in February, which covered approximately 10,000 total miles, Nemchik and his crew lived up to their boat's name.

On Feb. 4, the crew rescued 109 migrants aboard a vessel adrift off the coast of El Salvador. Without the Active crew's help, the people on board probably wouldn't have survived, Nemchik said.

"They hadn't eaten anything for three days," he said, via telephone from Port Angeles, Wash., the Active's home port. "The people in charge abandoned them and the waves were pushing their boat out to sea.

"We saved 109 lives."

The migrants, children and women included (one woman aboard the ship was pregnant), paid anywhere from $100 to $5,000 for passage on the 40-foot vessel. They left Ecuador with hopes of finding work and a better life in either Guatemala or the United States.

Their so-called benefactors, the captain and crew the migrants paid for safe voyage, abandoned them five days into their trip, leaving no food or water on- board.

"No one wanted them," Nemchik said. "Not even their own country."

Active and its crew nursed the migrants back to health, providing them with 24-hour, round the clock care and medical attention. Eventually, the migrants were transferred to another Coast Guard vessel.

Another mission loomed for Active and its crew.

On Feb. 20, a separate Coast Guard vessel, the cutter Midget, boarded a fishing vessel loaded with five tons of cocaine valued at more than $98 million. The drugs were heading for the United States.

The drug runners were planning to link up with two "go-fast vessels," Nemchik said, however, Active intercepted the vessels and denied the drug transaction.

"We stopped them from hooking up with the other ship," Nemchik said. "We train for these things everyday, but stuff like this doesn't always happen. We're just real happy we were at the right place at the right time."

Nemchik joined the Coast Guard in October 1996. While others his age were going to college, Nemchik and his crewmates were out at sea 180 days a year, typically a month or two at a time.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the nature and importance of the Coast Guard has changed. The Coast Guard is a part of the United States Department of Homeland Security and is an important tool in America's war on terrorism.

Being a part of something noble is worth missing the creature comforts typical home life offers, Nemchik said.

"I wanted something on my record, something to fall back on," Nemchik said of his service to his country, "but mainly, I wanted to be a part of something."

Which is a natural pursuit for the 26-year-old, considering his family's legacy in helping others.

For some families, farming, construction or a thousand other endeavors may constitute the family business. For the Nemchiks -- parents, Richard and Rose, sisters Amber and Ashley, and Mike -- it's public service.

At a time when public service and involvement is low, to say the family is a rarity is understatement. They also "are not ones to toot their own horns," as Richard said, but their tenures are noteworthy nonetheless.

Rose, a Basehor native, spent six years in the Air Force and another two years in the reserves. She is now a teacher at Glenwood Ridge Elementary School and has taught in public education for the last 13 years.

Richard spent 20 years in the Air Force and previously served as a police officer, United States Postal Service employee and Basehor-Linwood School Board member. He is currently chaplain of the Fairmount Township Fire Department, a position he also holds for the Basehor Veteran's of Foreign Wars organization.

He works as a civil rights investigator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Daughters Amber and Ashley are both working towards careers in medicine and education, respectively, and Mike continues to patrol the seas and America's coasts for the Coast Guard.

As a military family, the Nemchiks lived all over the world. For years, the family trotted around the globe until settling in Basehor in 1994.

Rose said her children may have learned the importance of helping others by witnessing the depraved conditions people living in third world countries are subjected to.

"My children saw kids that didn't have underwear or shoes," Rose said. "They thought nothing of giving (their own) things away because these kids had nothing.

"They understood they couldn't just stand on the sideline. They just jumped in and played."

Rose said her record in public service is a direct effect of her faith.

"I was 22 when I decided I would do the very best I could for the Lord," she said. "I always thought, OK, what more can I do? I only have one chance. If I don't do it today, I may not have a chance tomorrow."

Richard, who at HUD investigates claims that housing opportunities have been denied to people because of prejudice, recalls an Edmond Burke quote when asked about his public service.

"I remember that quote, 'all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing," he said. "That's kind of stuck with me. Things happen and sometimes people never do anything about it.

"Our whole family has been for the underdog. Some people need somebody to stand up for them."

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