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Citizen Airmen save life of drowning child during Cope North 2017

Staff Sgt. Dante Thomas, 349th Security Forces Squadron member, poses for a photo outside of the combat arms building at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., on March 9, 2017. Thomas recently took part in Exercise Cope North 2017 in Guam. He and Staff Sgt. Rochelle Waters, another 349 SFS member, saved the life of a drowning child during an off-day on the assignment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Daniel Phelps)

Staff Sgt. Dante Thomas, 349th Security Forces Squadron member, poses for a photo outside of the combat arms building at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., on March 9, 2017. Thomas recently took part in Exercise Cope North 2017 in Guam. He and Staff Sgt. Rochelle Waters, another 349 SFS member, saved the life of a drowning child during an off-day on the assignment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Daniel Phelps)

Staff Sgt. Rochelle Waters, 349th Security Forces Squadron member, poses for a photo outside of the combat arms building at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., on March 9, 2017. Waters recently took part in Exercise Cope North 2017 in Guam. She and Staff Sgt. Dante Thomas, another 349 SFS member, saved the life of a drowning child during an off-day on the assignment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Daniel Phelps)

Staff Sgt. Rochelle Waters, 349th Security Forces Squadron member, poses for a photo outside of the combat arms building at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., on March 9, 2017. Waters recently took part in Exercise Cope North 2017 in Guam. She and Staff Sgt. Dante Thomas, another 349 SFS member, saved the life of a drowning child during an off-day on the assignment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Daniel Phelps)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- They didn’t set out to be heroes, nor did they expect that their recent temporary assignment to Talafofo, Guam, would place them in that situation.

On Feb. 25, Staff Sgts. Rochelle Waters and Dante Thomas, 349th Security Forces Squadron members, were enjoying an off day at the beach from their training at Cope North when something odd in the water caught their eye.

“We swam all morning,” Waters said, describing the scene. “We were just hanging out after our barbeque. I was sitting under a canopy relaxing. Dante was chatting on the phone.”

A young boy and his sisters were playing in the water swimming, Dante said. As they swam further in the water, the boy started to lag behind.

“I don’t know why I looked up,” Waters said. “I saw the boy, about my son’s age, dipping under water, starting to flail and shouting, ‘I can’t swim, I can’t swim, I can’t swim.”

At that point, she started for the water just as Thomas threw down his phone. They both rushed toward the boy.

“As soon as I saw him bob, I knew he was in trouble,” Thomas added. “As I was jumping in, she dove in right beside me.”

“I ‘Baywatched’ it,” Waters said. “I stripped down to my suit and dove in. We swam out around 50 yards. I don’t remember who got to him first.”

Fortunately, both Citizen Airmen serve as life saving professions outside of their Reserve careers; Thomas is a police officer, Waters is a nurse.

Once they got the boy to shore, Waters noticed the child’s lips were blue and knew it wasn’t because he was cold.

“The water wasn’t cold,” she explained. “So I put him over so he could expel whatever was in his throat. Then, he coughed up a bunch of water. My nursing training kicked in.”

She took his pulse and checked his ABCs – airway, breathing and circulation.

“I made sure he was ok,” Water said. “He kept saying he was dizzy, his arms were dizzy and he was extremely tired.”

It was quite a distance to his family over rough terrain, so they couldn’t carry him, Thomas said. Since he was unable to walk, they waited with him.

“We waited until he could breathe a bit better and his pulse was in a normal range,” Waters said. “When he said he was ok, Dante and I swam back with him on our shoulders to his family.”

The family had no clue what had almost happened, Thomas said. They were incredibly grateful.

For the two Citizen Airmen, personal and professional instincts kicked in fast.

“The first thing that went through my mind was my son; I have a son the same age,” Waters explained. “It was almost immediate, like a mother’s intuition.”

Thomas said that as a police officer, he is always aware of his surroundings.

“I was just enjoying the scenery and saw something that didn’t add up,” he said. “I went from enjoying the scenery to seeing his head bob.”

The two Citizen Airmen don’t see what they did as anything out of the ordinary.

“I just did what I was supposed to do,” Thomas said. “It’s like putting on the uniform. We didn’t do this to be recognized. It was just – something’s wrong here, let’s do what we can to make it right.”

Water’s reiterated his thoughts.

“I think as a security forces member, it’s not that huge of a deal,” she said. “We know that any one of us, had we been in that situation, would have done that exact same thing.”


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