Soldier rescues swimmers, earns Soldier's Medal
August 29, 2008
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 29, 2008) - Four years after risking his own life to save two swimmers who had been pulled out to sea in cold and rough waters off Virginia Beach, Va., Sgt. 1st Class Lloyd A. Heinrichs Jr., a 1st Cavalry Division Soldier at Fort Hood, Texas, received the highest military award for heroism not related to combat.
Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, acting commander of the 1st Cav. Div., presented the award to Heinrichs, who is assigned to the division's Special Troops Battalion, April 1.
"Sgt. 1st Class Heinrichs demonstrated one of the most heroic acts, almost ending his life in the process," the citation read. "His personal honor and courage to bring back victims to shore, without giving up, was astonishing."
Equally astonishing at the time was the fact that Heinrichs was on a leave of absence from his unit, recuperating from injuries he received while deployed to Djibouti, Africa a year earlier.
"On Aug. 1, 2003, I was on the TSV [Theater Support Vessel] Spearhead in the Red Sea, en route to Jordan, to deliver supplies that were to go to a Kuwaiti air base," Heinrichs said. "The sea was very rough, with four- to six-foot waves. At one point, I was thrown into the air."
When he landed, he broke his leg and suffered a herniated disk, he said.
"I really shouldn't have done what I did, based on my injuries," Heinrichs said. "But I did what I had to do."
A fireman at the scene was quoted as saying, 'That was the craziest thing I have ever seen," after Heinrichs rescued a heavy-set woman from some 175 meters out, brought her to shore and then returned to help another rescuer trying to save two other victims, said Gary Couch, a lieutenant with a volunteer dive team that's part of the Virginia Beach Emergency Medical Services.
On May 9, 2004, Heinrichs, then assigned to the 396th Transportation Company's Harbor Master Detachment at Fort Story, Va., and himself a member of the EMS dive team, was at the oceanfront in Virginia Beach when a swimmer-in-distress call came in to the EMS dispatch office, he said. Heinrichs and Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Scott Weil responded.
Three people were being pulled out to sea by a strong undercurrent, said Couch. A red flag had already been posted due to the strong current. Adding to the swimmers' problems that day was the fact that "the water temperature was only around 65 degrees Fahrenheit."
Once at the water's edge, Heinrichs and Weil spotted the distressed swimmers and, without hesitation or regard for their own safety, each grabbed a torpedo buoy and jumped into the water.
The three victims, two women and a man, were safely brought to shore, where Virginia Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad personnel transported them to Virginia Beach General Hospital. All of the victims were treated and later released.
Heinrichs, currently attending the Advanced Noncommissioned Officers Course at Fort Hood, has retired from volunteer EMS service, he said. Besides his full-time Army job as a marine watercraft operator, "I now teach classes for the American Red Cross, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation and other life support."