CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – While eating Sunday dinner with friends by the Cumberland River April 18, Cpl. Bradley Dardas assigned to 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), never guessed he was minutes away from diving into the water to save a life.
“I saw a guy’s head bobbing, and my first thought was that somebody had jumped in the river and was messing around swimming,” Dardas said. “Then I saw a bunch of people running, panicking and yelling at him, so I got out of the car and ran over.”
Dardas soon learned from bystanders that the man was drowning in the river’s current. Nobody knew how it happened, but he was roughly 40 meters out from the shoreline and drifting further away.
“I started to run down toward the boat ramp and was telling him, ‘If you swim at an angle, you can eventually get to the shore downstream,’” Dardas said. “But when I was yelling at him, he just wasn’t with it at all. He was panicking, couldn’t comprehend anything that was going on and ended up taking himself backward.”
Once he realized it would take more than words to help, Dardas removed most of his clothes and dove into the Cumberland River himself as a bystander called 911.
“I swam out to him at an angle and intercepted him as he was coming down the river,” he said. “I told him not to panic or fight me, and I kept his head above the water doing a buddy/rescue carry. By the time we got back to the boat ramp, two or three [police officers] were already there, and they ran down knee deep in the water to help me pull this guy out.”
Despite the strong current and cold temperature, Dardas was confident he could make the rescue thanks to his experience training with friends who later joined the Navy.
“Even though I didn’t want to join the Navy, I started training with them because I figured it was a really good way to get in shape with swimming, and it’s always a good skill to have,” he said. “It was everything from long-distance swims and treading to doing the buddy/rescue swims, as well as swimming with boots and uniforms on.”
Dardas thought of that training from the moment he hit the water until he reached the shoreline.
“Any of the rescue training you do with water, you learn that if people try and fight you it’s not a fun time,” he said. “When I got out there and was telling him that, he just looked at me. I think it registered in his mind, but when we got him out of the water, I think he was partially in shock, and he was just completely out of it.”
That left the victim unable to answer questions from officers, paramedics or firefighters after the rescue. Dardas never even learned the man’s name, but he received a citizen commendation from the Clarksville Police Department on April 30 for saving his life.
“It takes all kinds to serve all kinds, and though we don’t blast out to our citizens, ‘take action, get involved’ … some people just do,” Clarksville Police Department Chief David Crockarell said. “It’s in their blood, it’s in their training, it’s in their mantra, it’s in their comdradery. It’s found within them.”
Captain John Rivera, company commander, 2-506th Inf. Regt., said Dardas showed the same swiftness and precision during the rescue as he does in training exercises each day, and that he serves as a model Soldier.
“It was a physically daunting task, going into a fast-moving river cold and for a complete stranger,” Rivera said. “As his commander, I’m proud to know we still have guys like him in our ranks. It not only makes our brigade stronger, but the U.S. Army stronger.”
Dardas said the entire experience still feels unreal and thanked his father and command team for their support and encouragement.
“I wasn’t expecting the response it got from everybody, from being out here today getting an award to my command congratulating me,” Dardas said. “It feels good, but at the same time I know any Soldier that knew how would have been out there doing the same thing.”