A day of adventure nearly turned disastrous for a family with small children, but the quick actions of Soldiers from Aviation Center Logistics Command enabled everyone to escape unharmed.
Staff Sgt. Martha Chavez, quality assurance representative for ACLC’s Materiel Support Branch, was kayaking with friends in Milton, Florida, last month when she noticed a distressed man in the water near some tree branches.
“It looked odd, but I wasn’t close enough to realize what was happening,” said Chavez. “As I got closer and saw further down the river, I noticed two small kids in floating donuts holding on to some tree limbs on the left side of the river.”
Chavez called out to the man to see if everything was okay and ask if they needed assistance. The man yelled that he needed help, at which time Chavez began to maneuver toward them.
“That’s when I noticed he was holding a small child,” said Chavez. “This was only my second time kayaking, so I assessed the situation from my location and decided my best option was to try and slowly crash my kayak into a log that was next to them and slowly get closer to them. I didn’t want the river current to push me away from them.”
Sgt. 1st Class Cynthia Reyes was kayaking on the river with Chavez, and she quickly realized what was happening as she got closer to the group. Reyes stabilized Chavez’s kayak so the father could place the child on it for safety.
“He mentioned that he was holding on with pure adrenaline and had been trying to take his kid to safety but was unable to do so,” said Chavez. “We made sure he was okay and told him that we would take [the child] to safety and explained that he was safe with us.”
Other Soldiers in the kayaking group also came over to assist, including Chief Warrant Officer 1 Jeffery Barnes and Sgt. 1st Class Breanna Major-Funchess.
The Soldiers told the father they were going to find a sandbar where the group could be safely reunited – and Barnes took the lead and guided everyone to the nearest one.
“While we were making our way to the sandbar, Breanna helped me keep the little boy calm. That’s when we noticed his distraught mother who had been swept further down the river,” said Chavez. “We approached and asked if she was okay. She was in obvious shock – she couldn’t stop shaking and her face was the face of a mother who almost lost her baby to the river. She managed to pull herself to us and hugged her son.”
Chavez told the boy’s mother of the plan to meet at the next sandbar and continued down the river with the child. Reyes stayed behind with the father, mother and other children, ensuring they were okay and guiding them to the designated reunification spot.
Once the family was safely back together, the Soldiers got the full picture of what happened.
“They ended up in the water and their smallest child, who wasn’t wearing a lifejacket, went under the water because the mother was not able to hold onto him,” said Chavez. “The current ended up pushing him further down, but the father was able to get the child and hold on to the tree branch. We found them not long after.”
Chavez doesn’t consider herself a hero but hopes other people will read this story and learn from it.
“I wouldn’t call myself a hero because I know what I did anyone else would have done -- and it was a team effort,” said Chavez. “We all had a small role in helping a family avoid a tragic outcome, and I’m thankful that God put us there to help them.”
When asked what she hopes others will take away from this event, Chavez said people should always being thinking about safety – especially on the water with children.
“This was a slow-moving body of water, and the parents didn’t understand the danger. Not one of them was wearing a life vest,” said Chavez. “Even if you feel like you’re a strong swimmer, put a vest on your kids. When it comes to water safety, you have to take precautions to avoid a disastrous outcome.”
ACLC Commander Col. Matthew Parker is proud of the Soldiers’ actions and said events like this serve as a reminder that fun is an essential part of life, but everyone should know the risks involved in extracurricular activities – especially on the water.
“Plan ahead, have the appropriate gear and never place anyone in a situation they have not trained or prepared for without the proper safety mechanisms in place,” said Parker. “These Soldiers embody our Army culture to a T! We serve to protect those in need, even if it means putting ourselves at risk, and that is what they did while taking on this challenge as a team.
“This group worked together to save a family and prevent a horrible tragedy. It has all the outstanding elements we instill in our daily operations—observation, awareness, planning, teamwork, communication, execution and leading by example. The best part is their humility and honesty, recognizing these actions as what the nation expects of Soldiers. Very well done!”