Gut instinct has served U.S. Coast Guard helicopter pilot, Lt. Hector ‘Rafy’ Ramos, well. Last year, flying out of Air Station Borinquen in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, Ramos and his team successfully rescued a Virgin Islands’ woman floating in the water several hours after a plane crash and, on another occasion, a fisherman stranded off the south coast of Puerto Rico for a day and a half. Each time, Ramos followed and then adapted the standard search grid using his instinct. Or, in these two cases, it meant tracking the usual direction of the sea currents he knew so well from having been born and raised in the Caribbean.
Ramos, a native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, first studied accounting at the University of Puerto Rico. There, he was accepted as a cadet into the Air Force’s ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program. He traveled one summer to the Air Force’s Colorado Spring’s training facility and earned his wings parachuting. However, he didn’t think about becoming a pilot at this point. Instead, he returned home, graduated and worked for a while on the family’s coffee plantation.
“I always loved the military,” Ramos explains. “I also had a drive to become an officer. When I checked online, I found that the USCG offered an Officer Candidate School. I applied and was accepted. It wasn’t until I was stationed in Guam as a law enforcement officer and a friend applied to the Coast Guard’s aviation program that I really thought about being a pilot. So I applied too.”
Ramos was posted to Pensacola, Florida, where he and other USCG pilot candidates trained with the Navy for two years. He studied five days a week as well and learned to fly single-engine planes. Training progressed from straight line flights to soaring in formation and performing other precision acrobatics, all designed to build keen awareness and an ability to constantly multitask.
“I knew that to accomplish the mission of the Coast Guard in a hands-on way meant piloting a helicopter,” Ramos says. “So, I want to Milton, Florida, for eight months of additional training learning the basics of aerodynamics in a rotary wing craft, for example, and flying at night in night vision goggles.”
Ramos graduated from flight training and was lucky to land an assignment flying HH-65 Dolphin helicopters back home in Puerto Rico. Here, his range of operation includes Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and his multiple missions cover everything from law enforcement, migrant and drug interdiction, aids to navigation and search and rescue. Ramos also had the honor last October 18th of being selected to fly USCG Commandant, Robert J. Papp, Jr., on a familiarization trip to review the service’s land and sea assets in the region.
“I was the single pilot and Admiral Papp flew as the co-pilot,” explains Ramos. “There were two to three cutters in the area that day. It was a great morale booster to have the Commandant visit.”
Another of Ramos missions is going airborne in advance and in the aftermath of a hurricane. USCG Air Station Borinquen boasts a hurricane-proof hanger and its helicopters, equipped with state-of-the-art electronics and avionics, can fly in up to 50 knots of wind. This allows Ramos and his team to accomplish tasks such as warning boaters before the storm, as well as performing search and rescue operations and assessing waterways for hazards to navigation before ports are re-opened after a storm.
Ramos encourages young people who would like to follow in his path. “You can enlist or go the officer route,” he says. “There are several career choices such as small boat operations, rescue swimmer and helicopter pilot. In the end, it all comes down to keeping people safe on the sea. There’s no greater feeling than a successful rescue.”