By Staff Sgt. Robert HicksNovember 15, 2019
FORT EUSTIS, Va. -- While on a typical morning run in Smithfield, Virginia, a Soldier witnesses a small boat capsize in the local Pagan River, then hears yelling and screaming coming from the area. As he looks around trying to pinpoint the sound, he takes off into a sprint to the end of the bridge, and with no hesitation he dives into the water.
He proceeds to swim 75 meters when he comes across a man struggling to stay afloat gripping onto the side of the boat. The men successfully turned the boat upright, but couldn't get the excess water out and in a split decision U.S. Army Maj. Timothy Decker, operations officer for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training, had to make the decision on how he would save 82 year-old George Gray.
"Once we couldn't get the boat drained, I decided to have him hold on to it like a flotation device as I swam and pulled him and the boat," Decker said. "After about a minute of trying that I realized we wasn't making any progress to get closer to the shore line."
Decker attempted to swim back to the same location he dove in, until he realized he was swimming against the current and was in the same spot he started just moments ago.
"I quickly changed directions and started swimming perpendicular to the current," Decker said. "I was extremely exhausted, but I could see we were making progress, so I just pushed ahead. It took us five to seven minutes to reach a dock."
Throughout the whole process Decker explained how Gray maintained his composure and remained calm throughout the incident.
"It was pretty instantaneous from when he stepped foot on to the dock; he broke down in tears and gave me a big hug," Decker said. "It was a very humbling experience."
Shortly after, the police and ambulance were waiting to ensure both men were safe.
"I think anyone would have done what I did if they were in that situation," Decker said. "I'm just happy I was there to help."
Because of his actions on Oct. 5, 2019, when Decker saved Gray from drowning, Smithfield Police Department awarded him with the city's Life Saving Award.
The Life Saving Award is issued to anyone whose actions saved the life of a fellow citizen in an emergency.
"I'm just thankful to be alive," Gray said. "I was hanging on to the boat and I had on a really heavy coat and if it wasn't for this gentlemen [Decker] I wouldn't be here today."