ST. PAUL, Minn. — Pfc. Ben Brooks, a helicopter power train repairman with the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s Company D, 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation, has helped rescue two people from the Mississippi River in the past two months.
“I was just doing my job,” Brooks said. “I don’t feel like I did anything that anyone else wouldn’t have done in that situation.”
A traditional National Guard Soldier who drills one weekend per month, Brooks works as a mechanic and crane operator with Upper River Services in St. Paul, Minnesota, a barge traffic service provider on the upper Mississippi River. He and coworkers were occupied with a large tow boat June 21 when the bridge tender called Upper River Services about two boys in the river.
A 10-year-old boy had slipped into the Mississippi River while playing, and his 14-year-old cousin tried to rescue him, but had to be rescued himself from the river’s high and fast waters by nearby Union Pacific workers.
“[The owner of the company] turned to me and said, ‘Get the boat running,’” Brooks said.
Brooks said he was on deck of the small repair vessel, the MV Pike, when they found the 10-year-old boy under the rake end — the slope at the front — of a barge. Brooks held a coworker by the belt as he reached for the 10-year-old. Together they pulled the boy from the river.
Only a few weeks earlier, Brooks heard a coworker shout “man overboard.” Brooks looked and saw a man floating in the river May 2. He and his coworkers — who received man overboard training from Upper River Services — quickly boarded the MV Pike and made their way to the man’s location.
“The water was cold and moving faster than normal because the water level was high,” Brooks said. “As we approached, we realized he was struggling to stay above the water.”
According to local media, Ramsey County Sheriff Jack Serier said an eyewitness reported seeing the man climb the barrier on the Robert Street bridge in downtown St. Paul, and jump into the river 40 feet below.
Brooks and his coworkers were able to get the struggling man to put an arm through a live ring thrown to him, and pull him aboard the repair vessel.
The Upper River Services employees who responded to the incident were honored June 12 with a U.S. Coast Guard Certificate of Merit and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Award for Excellence. Brooks was on Guard training at the time of the ceremony.
“We saved a man’s life, and we’re grateful we were in the right place at the right time,” he said.
Brooks urged anyone with thoughts of committing suicide to reconsider.
“I think anyone struggling with suicide [ideation] or substance abuse should know that they always have someone to turn to, no matter how alone they may feel,” Brooks said. “Even reaching out to a stranger is better than acting on a feeling that very well could pass.”
1st Sgt. Todd Wilcox, the senior noncommissioned officer for Company D, 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation, said Brooks shows professional standards, and said he was not surprised by his actions.
“He is a hard-working Soldier who would show the personal courage to help in a time of need,” Wilcox said.