FORT BRAGG, N.C. - U.S. Army Maj. Kenneth Leahy, a North Carolina National Guard dental officer, was awarded the Coast Guard Commendation Medal Dec. 3.
The Coast Guard recognized Leahy in a ceremony attended by his peers, family and senior leaders for rescuing a distressed 10-year-old child from drowning in turbulent water over 200 yards from shore.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” said Leahy. “I thank God that I didn’t hesitate, and having my kids see me do a selfless act is its own reward. This isn’t the first time I have done it, and I will continue to do it. I can’t run, but I can swim!”
On July 4, Leahy and his family were swimming at North Topsail Beach when other beach patrons and the child’s family started shouting, “She can’t swim. She can’t swim.”
Leahy immediately swam to the child and evaluated her medical condition while swimming toward shore.
“I swam out and caught up to her,” said Leahy. “I rolled her onto her back. She was unresponsive.”
Leahy said he made sure she regained consciousness before starting back to shore.
“We had somebody swim up with a boogie board,” Leahy said. “I got it under her and we started swimming back. When we got to the waves where the breakers were, a big one came. I just remember grabbing her as hard as I could. It rolled us and slammed me down. I thought I lost her, but I still had her. I swam back up [to the surface] and we got her back out.”
U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Matt Baer, the sector commander of North Carolina, presented Leahy with the award.
“Inlets have fast-flowing currents. In this case, based upon the currents, she was going to be taken offshore,” Baer said. “We launched a rescue boat and a Coast Guard helicopter out of Elizabeth City because we didn’t know where she was going to go.
“We did have a search and rescue action plan, but fortunately, Maj. Leahy got there before we had the need to.”
Leahy said this is the fifth person he has saved from drowning in the ocean.
“I have always been a good swimmer,” Leahy said. “Swimming is always natural for me. I have never had a fear of the ocean because you can float, but you still have to have a respect for it because at any time, things can go horribly wrong.”
U.S. Army Col. Michael Marciniak, the 60th Troop Command commander, recognized Leahy’s act of heroism and spoke to other service members in the medical detachment about their role in the medical readiness of North Carolina.
“When I was listening to the citation for Maj. Leahy, one of the things that came to my mind was in our mission statement: to protect lives and the property of our citizens in North Carolina,” said Marciniak. “That is what he has done. Maj. Leahy wasn’t in his uniform. He was probably in his swim trunks hanging out with his family, but he executed that mission. I’m also standing in front of a bunch of medical professionals whose job is to do that every day. I’m very proud of you. I appreciate what you are doing for our nation and state. You are building readiness and you are taking care of our people.”