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Airmen's quick thinking saves life

Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, 57th Wing commander, presents Maj. Annie Driscoll, 66th Rescue Squadron director of staff, the Air Force Commendation Medal, Nov. 17, 2016. Driscoll and her husband, Maj. Maxwell Harrell, 53rd Wing advance program operating location alpha director, saved a man from drowning while they were vacationing in Yosemite National Park during Fourth of July Weekend. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, 57th Wing commander, presents U.S. Air Force Maj. Annie Driscoll, 66th Rescue Squadron director of staff, the Air Force Commendation Medal, Nov. 17, 2016. Driscoll and her husband, Maj. Maxwell Harrell, 53rd Wing advance program operating location alpha director, saved a man from drowning while they were vacationing in Yosemite National Park, Calif., during Fourth of July Weekend. (Courtesy photo)

Moody Air Force Base, Ga. --

It’s summer time, and you’re relaxing on the beach. As you listen to the water wash onto the shore, suddenly you hear a nearby family yelling -- someone is in danger. Do you risk your life to help?

Maj. Annie Driscoll, 66th Rescue Squadron director of staff, and her husband Maj. Maxwell Harrell, 53rd Wing advance program operating location alpha director, were enjoying their Fourth of July weekend at Yosemite National Park, California, when they noticed a man bobbing in the water, his hands flailing on the surface.

Instinctively, Harrell and Driscoll darted toward the man as fast as possible.

“I honestly didn’t even think at all,” Harrell said. “I was a lifeguard in high school, and it was just [my] immediate instinct to run in the water and try to pull this guy out. It wasn’t until I got about 10 feet away from him when I started to think about what I was going to do once I got to him.”

Harrell arrived first with Driscoll not too far behind, concerned for her husband’s safety.

“My fear [for] Max [was that] the guy was going to pull him under,” Driscoll said. “Then, I would have two giant men I would have to try and keep from drowning.”

By the time Harrell arrived, the man’s lips and face were blue, he was not moving and did not respond to touch.

“I thought for sure he was dead,” Harrell said. “I was worried, because I knew Annie was right behind me, and I didn’t want her to see that we were basically going to rescue a dead body.”

Harrell used his strength to push the man toward the shore, while Driscoll used hers to keep everyone afloat. Once ashore, Driscoll checked his airway and realized the man wasn’t breathing because there was water in the back of his throat.

They rolled the man onto his side and Driscoll began thrusting his chest to force the water out. After 4 or 5 thrusts, he gasped and started screaming in pain.

After a few minutes, they walked the man and his family back to their car, so they could go to a medic station up the road. Although traffic prevented them from ever getting there, the family flagged down a policeman who called an ambulance and rushed the man to a nearby hospital.

Driscoll called the hospital and left a phone number just in case the family wanted to reach out to them. Once he was stabilized, the man called and said his last thought before he went under water was that he would never meet his unborn daughter.

The Airmen said the family thanked them and were extremely grateful for their selfless acts that saved their loved one’s life. Harrell and Driscoll were just glad they could help.

“We were thankful for being there,” Harrell said. “I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it without Annie. Either, I wouldn’t have been able to make it [ashore], or I wouldn’t have been able to complete CPR once we got there because I couldn’t think clearly.”

Both Driscoll and Harrell credit their Air Force training for giving them the knowledge they needed to successfully save the man.

“Your basic self-aid buddy care skills, check his air way, breathing and perform chest compressions, [came to mind on the shore],” Driscoll said. “We were armed with those skills because of the training we have received throughout our Air Force careers. The training taught me how to act and think calmly under pressure, and I don’t think that’s something that [every] person has."

Even with the training they’d received, both Driscoll and Harrell were shaken up after the events of that Fourth of July weekend. The intense emotions, afterthoughts of various scenarios and physical exertion left them reeling in exhaustion.

“It was almost scarier afterwards,” Driscoll said. “Once everything was said and done, I would stop and think, ‘I don’t know what I would have done if the guy was pulling my husband underwater as well.’ It could have gone down a lot worse. We were very fortunate to be in the position we were [and] to have the skills we needed to do what we needed to do at the right time. This isn’t about us; it’s about this guy being alive."

Harrell echoed that sentiment.

“If we weren’t there, that family would have watched him die that day,” he said.

Harrell and Driscoll received a commendation medal, a mid-level United States military decoration, presented for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service.

“I know them both, and they’re both great people,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Matlock, 66th RCS commander. “I [work with] Major Driscoll, and she’s a real professional. I only found out, because she reported it to me as a major incident. It wasn’t until I started asking questions that I realized they saved someone’s life. They embody the core values.

“We’re extremely proud to have Major Driscoll in our unit,” Matlock added. “She definitely leads by example.”