By Mr. John Ciccarelli (Regional Health Command Pacific)June 19, 2019
SANTA RITA, Guam -- Sgt. Naim Chisolm, a veterinary food inspection specialist at Public Health Activity (PHA) -- Guam, received the Army Soldier's Medal for Heroism during a ceremony on June 19.
Col. Heidi Mon, commander, Public Health Command-Pacific, presented Chisolm with the medal, and described him as a hero who represents Army values and someone who fellow soldiers should strive to emulate. Chisolm earned the Soldier's Medal for his heroism on when he saved three individuals from drowning in Guam last March.
Chisolm earned the Soldier's Medal for his heroism on when he saved three individuals from drowning in Guam last March.
"It is without question that Sgt. Chisolm's courage and decisive action played a vital role in saving three precious lives," said Mon.
Chisolm had been in the Army nearly three years when he was assigned at PHA -- Guam in March 2018, where he inspects food and military food facilities to ensure a safe, high-quality food supply for Department of Defense personnel and their families.
"I have one of the best jobs in the military," he said. "I joined the Army because I have family who has served, and since I was a child it was always one of the career fields I wanted to pursue. I love being a Soldier."
Chisolm had been in Guam for two weeks when he took a tour of the island with two co-workers. The group stopped at a picturesque cove to swim, and Chisolm waited on the beach.
"I have been cautious my whole life about going in the ocean," said Chisolm, who is originally from New Jersey and said he never learned to swim. "I like to look at the water more than I like to be in it."
It wasn't long before a woman ran over from the other side of a rock outcropping, crying for help. She took him to where several women had been swept out of the cove into the open ocean. One of them was holding a toddler.
"The sight of ocean waves rolling in unsettled me. I never thought I would be going more than knee-deep into the water," Chisolm said. "I was terrified of going in, but I knew that if I didn't and something happened, I would never forgive myself."
Earlier that day, Michele Ernst had hiked to the cove on a popular trail with several co-workers and friends. While the group split apart to snorkel and jump off some nearby rocks, Michele and two other women, Marie and Courtney, stayed behind with her two young children. The cove's protected, shallow waters provided an ideal play area for Michele's 4-year-old son, Nick, and nearly 2-year-old daughter, Madison.
Marie was taking in the view of the waves from an opening between two rocks that led from the cove to the open ocean. Michele, with Madison in her arms, and Courtney, with Nick in her arms, moved closer. The water was up to their shoulders.
"As we looked out at the waves, I felt a sudden and strong rush of water that started pulling Madison from my arms," Michele said. "I leaned forward to bring her in closer to my chest and suddenly found myself outside of the cove in water that was too deep for me to touch the bottom."
Without hesitation, Marie followed Michele into the deep water, holding on to her. Michele yelled to Courtney to get help. Nick was now screaming in Courtney's arms.
"I started kicking and swimming with my one free arm, as Marie tried to help push us back toward the cove," said Michele, adding she knew she needed to swim perpendicular to the current, but because of the direction they were turned, it would send them further out to sea. "We quickly realized we were being pulled and sucked out toward the open ocean."
Meanwhile, Chisolm grabbed the reef wall and made his way to the women as waves pushed him against the coral.
"I remember slipping in the water; it was too deep for me to stand," he said. "I was able to grab Marie and pull her in closer using the coral wall. Once I pulled her in and I was able to grab Michele; she made her way to the shore."
During the ceremony, Michele expressed to the attendees how Chisolm's courage and decisive action played a vital role in saving their lives that faithful day.
"March 24, 2018, is the date that could have been etched on my grave stone, my daughter's gravestone, my friend's gravestone, and even Naim Chisolm's gravestone," expressed Michele.
Overcome with emotion, she continued on, "I cannot express how Sgt. Chisolm has forever changed my life. Not only did he step up when nobody else would, but he was in no position to take on the task. He did it anyway and I am forever grateful to him for his true courage, strength, and selflessness," Michele said.