By JESSICA SAVAGE
While most of the world has been following news of an American ship captain rescued last week from Somali pirates, one Hudson graduate is living it.
U.S. Marine Cpl. Blake Childers is stationed on a warship off the coast of Somalia where he is part of a helicopter squadron known as "Evil Eyes," monitoring the pirate-infested waters. Aboard the USS Boxer, Childers, 23, is one of thousands of Marines on a seven-month tour to disrupt piracy in the Gulf of Aden and other pirate prone areas off the eastern coast of Africa.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge tows the lifeboat from the Maersk Alabama to the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, in background, to be processed for evidence after the successful rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips. Phillips was held captive by suspected Somali pirates in the lifeboat in the Indian Ocean for five days after a failed hijacking attempt.
U.S. Marine Cpl. Blake Childers, of Hudson, is stationed on the USS Boxer off the coast of Somalia. He is an aerial observer and survival equipment technician on the CH-46 helicopters for the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 'Evil Eyes.'
As an aerial observer and survival equipment technician U.S. Marine Cpl. Blake Childers said his squadron's mission is to gather intelligence of any piracy activity and 'sustain them if need be.'
The military ship where Childers lives and works made world headlines this week when U.S. Navy Seals rescued an American ship captain held hostage by teenage Somali pirates. The captain of the Maersk Alabama, Richard Phillips, was brought aboard the USS Boxer earlier in the week where he stayed for two days.
Childers said the dramatic rescue — during which the military captured one injured pirate before shooting and killing three others holding the captain at gunpoint — meant a great deal to him.
"You always have these close calls, but I am glad we trained like we fight because when it was go-time the whole mission went without a single hiccup," he said in an e-mail message Friday.
Childers cannot discuss specifics of the rescue because of military regulations.
However, the Marine did say he had a chance to meet the rescued captain while the captain was aboard the USS Boxer for two days.
"Capt. Phillips was in great spirits and could not thank everyone enough for what they did for him. He said it all happened so fast, it was like a blur," Childers said.
The Marine said as of Friday the USS Boxer was holding the 16-year-old pirate, whose been named in Associated Press reports as Abduhl Wal-i-Musi. The teenager is awaiting a flight to the United States for trial.
Waters off the western coast of Africa have long been known for piracy. The Gulf of Aden — a shortcut between Europe and Asia — is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. That area, especially, has been hard hit by pirates. Their interest is in money, for which countries whose crews are held hostage are asked to pay a $1 million or more in ransom.
So far this year, Somali pirates have attacked more than 80 boats and are now holding 18 ships and more than 30 crew members hostage, the Associated Press reports.
U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, said Friday he was proud to hear an Angelina County native is helping the United States fight piracy.
"If you don't fight these guys so they realize we're serious then they will keep on attacking our ships and taking our men," he said.
"They're not just a nuisance, they are an international threat."
Gohmert said he thinks President Barack Obama acted appropriately in issuing an order to attack pirates holding an American ship captain hostage.
"He did the right thing standing behind it," he said. "Paying ransom only encourages (pirates) to do it more."
The United States currently has a fleet of six ships patrolling the waters off the coast of eastern Africa. Childers, who is an aerial observer and survival equipment technician on the CH-46 helicopters for the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163, spends his days patrolling the waters. His squadron's mission, he said, is to gather intelligence of any piracy activity and "sustain them if need be."
There are an estimated 1,300 Marines and sailors aboard the USS Boxer — a San Diego-based ship that is carrying a military population one-fourth the size of Hudson where Childers graduated from high school in 2004.
The crew hasn't seen land since Feb. 22, Childers said, and the ship is expected to stay off the coast of western Africa until June.
Childers' family said they are "extremely proud of him and the part of history he is making."
Blake Childers is the son of Morris and LaNette Childers, the grandson of Myrl and Virginia Luce, and Lora Griggs — all of Lufkin. He has a 2-year-old daughter named Calli.
Childers' twin brother, Bruce, is also in the Marine Corps and just completed two tours in Iraq. His younger brother, Bradley, recently graduated from Texas State Technical College in Waco.