NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Airmen receive training throughout their career to help them perform during stressful situations and to focus on the mission.
That’s exactly what Lt. Col. Ryan Messer, 17th Weapons Squadron commander, and Lt. Col. Edward Casey, 388th Operations Support Squadron commander, at Hill AFB, Utah, did during a weekend vacation Oct. 13.
Messer and Casey were vacationing together with their families at Coronado Naval Air Station North Island, Calif.
Messer was body surfing with his daughter Oct. 12 when they were called in from the water by the lifeguards on shift due to riptides coming in. Messer decided to ask a few questions regarding riptides and was told how to identify them and that the beach received about three Riptides daily.
According to ripcurrents.noaa.gov, a riptide occurs when waves break strongly in some locations and weakly in others, this can cause circulation cells, or rip currents, which are narrow, fast-moving belts of water traveling away from shore.
The following day, Messer’s and Casey’s families met up on the beach and realized the winds were stronger, the waves were rougher and lifeguards shifts were starting late due to budget limitations than the day before. They decided to stay out of the water and just take a walk down the beach.
The families saw a large group of people waving their hands during this walk, trying to get their attention.
One of the women ran up to Messer crying and screaming franticly and asked him if he could swim when they reached the group. She then told him her son was drowning while pointing out past the surf.
According to Messer the child must have been playing in the shallow part of the water before he was pulled out by a riptide.
Both Messer and Casey leapt into the ocean without hesitation and swam toward what they presumed was the drowning child approximately 120 meters out.
“You really don’t know what to expect when seeing someone drowning,” Messer said. “From what you see in the movies, people are usually flailing their arms and yelling.”
What they saw was someone just bobbing and floating around in the water.
According to Messer, once in the water, he couldn’t really see where the boy was due to the waves.
“I’m 6 feet 3 inches tall, and the waves were defiantly going way over me,” he said.
He recalls at one point while swimming out to the drowning child, his friend Casey was rolled up in a wave and pulled back toward shore by the currents.
As he reached the last 30 meters, he could see exhaustion in the child’s eyes as his face bobbed in and out of the water in what Messer estimated were six foot waves.
The 7th WPS commander started yelling to the child he was coming and told the boy to try and swim toward him. He was doing everything he could to keep the child focused.
“I was really afraid in those last 30 meters as I was swimming to him; he might go under the water,” Messer said. “Then it would be even more difficult to find him.”
As Messer reached the child, he had noticed that the boy was no longer trying to keep his face from falling in the water.
“It was obvious he had pretty much given up,” Messer said.
Casey caught up to him as Messer grabbed ahold of the child and kept the boy’s head above the water and pull him back into shore.
“A couple of times, all three of us were getting rolled by the waves as we were heading back to the beach.” Messer said.
While out in the water, both Messer’s and Casey’s daughters had run to grab a lifeguard from one of the nearby pools. Due to cutbacks, the lifeguards’ shifts at the beach didn’t start until noon.
The child’s mother grabbed her son and hugged him tight once they were back on shore.
According to Messer, the child was completely worn out but still breathing so they did not have to perform CPR.
The Messer and Casey families decided to leave and give the lifeguards room to help the child once they arrived.
It was on the walk back to their rooms when they realized how easily things could have ended differently, and they could have walked in the other direction.
Messer was later told by Colby Young, one of the lifeguards that responded that day, the child they saved was around one to two minutes away from death and things, “would not have ended as it did without their help.”
According to Messer, his military training made the difference during his rescue of a drowning child.
“I honestly attribute a lot to our training,” Messer said. “All the training we are given helps us realize what the objective is and just focus on it.”