FORT MOORE, Ga. — Completing U.S. Army Basic Combat Training is a major milestone in the transformation of a civilian into a Soldier. Trainees go through a variety of training that tests their physical limits and marksmanship while instilling U.S. Army core values. Those values encompass loyalty, duty, respect, honor, integrity, selfless service and personal courage.
Pfc. Matthew Cole, a One Station Unit Training Infantry trainee with Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, 198th Infantry Brigade, recently had the opportunity to demonstrate two Soldier core values: selfless service and personal courage.
On May 26, Cole, a Martinsburg, West Virginia native, was celebrating the completion of BCT with his family in downtown Columbus, Georgia, at the northern end of the Chattahoochee Riverwalk. He saw a father and daughter eating lunch on a patch of dry land in the middle of the river, accessible only when the water level was low and the hydroelectric dam to the north was closed.
The water level of the Chattahoochee River in that area can rise quickly when the dam opens, releasing water from the reservoir to the north. When this happens, an alarm will sound to warn people in the immediate area.
“The dam alarm started going off while we were walking,” said Cole, adding that the water had begun to rise rapidly. The father and his daughter, he recalled, were not moving fast enough to get out of the river onto the east bank before the water became too deep to cross on foot.
Personnel from the city of Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services arrived shortly after the incident to render aid and added details of the ensuing river rescue.
“They tried to make it out of the river,” said Columbus Fire Department Division Chief and Fire Marshall John Shull. “As they were doing that, they started drifting downstream.”
Cole acted immediately and went into the river to help the pair to safety.
“The dad was holding his little girl up,” said Cole. “I grabbed her and then swam down to the riverbank and got her out,” he said. Cole explained that after taking the young girl, the father was able to move safely back to dry land.
Cole believes the situational awareness he learned during BCT aided his ability to act decisively.
“I saw what was going to happen before it happened. They were wading across the water, and it was rising too high,” said Cole. “I started running before they even got stuck and started going under the water,” he said.
Had Cole not jumped into the river, the results could have been tragically different.
Shull said it’s not uncommon for members of Columbus Fire and EMS to respond to incidents on the river.
“We typically have at least one person every year that drowns in the Chattahoochee River,” said Shull. “It’s a very treacherous river — very dangerous,” he said.
“We’re so glad that Pvt. Matthew Cole was there that day,” said Shull. “I have every reason to believe that he made a tremendous impact, and there’s a very strong possibility that the three-year-old and the father would not be there today if it wasn’t for the brave acts of Private Cole.”