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93d AGOW Airmen rescue VSU student

A photo of a lake.

A photo of Madison Blue Springs State Park, Florida, March 27, 2021. (Courtesy photo by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Colin Bracken)

A photo of an Airman in front of a brick wall.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Colin Bracken, 822d Base Defense Squadron security forces fire team member, poses for a photo, March 31, 2021, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. Bracken and Senior Airman Jeremy Rowland, 822d BDS security forces squad systems operator, rescued a Valdosta State University student from a near-drowning incident at Madison Blue Springs State Park, Florida, March 27, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Rachel Perkinson)

A photo of an Airman standing in front of lockers.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jeremy Rowland, 822d Base Defense Squadron security forces squad systems operator, poses for a photo, March 31, 2021, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. Rowland and Airman 1st Class Colin Bracken, 822d BDS security forces fire team member, rescued a Valdosta State University student from a near-drowning incident at Madison Blue Springs State Park, Florida, March 27, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Rachel Perkinson)

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

Two Airmen with the 93d Air Ground Operations Wing saved a man from a near-drowning incident at Madison Blue Springs State Park, Florida, March 27, 2021.

After completing a mission readiness exercise the weekend prior, Senior Airman Jeremy Rowland, 822d Base Defense Squadron security forces squad systems operator, and Airman 1st Class Colin Bracken, 822d BDS security forces fire team member, spent their day swimming at the spring when they noticed a man struggling to swim, later identified as a Valdosta State University student.

“We'd only been in the water maybe 10, 15 minutes, just relaxing, and just out of the corner of our eyes, we both looked over and saw him bobbing up and down,” Bracken said.

That scenario is globally common. According to the World Health Organization, drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths with an estimate of 320,000 annual drowning deaths worldwide.

Bracken grew up swimming in the ocean, so he was always aware of the dangers of swimming. From his experience, he recognized the man in distress and sprang into action.

“We swam over to double-check if he was okay,” Bracken said. “We asked him if he knew how to swim, and he said, ‘No.’ I grabbed him on one side and (Rowland) grabbed him on the other, and through the current, we swam onto the shore, sat him down, and made sure he was breathing.”

Even with each other’s help, the Airmen faced a challenging task; the Madison Blue Springs is adjacent to the Withlachooche River, which brings in a strong current.

“We had the current pushing up against us,” Rowland said. “We were having to swim against and across it, so it wasn’t easy.”

Their physically demanding job and hours of training helped them swim ashore.

“It’s good to know my training has paid off on stress inoculation,” Rowland said about how emergencies can happen at a moment’s notice. “I think I can credit that to the Air Force with (Tactical Combat Casualty Care) training and other (similar) trainings.”

Thanks to the quick response of these Airmen, the individual was able to walk away alive and well.

“It feels good to know they will look out for other people, not only on duty, but off duty as well,” said Staff Sgt. Nicolas Rowe, 820th Combat Operation Squadron training instructor. “They went above and beyond what was asked of them and even helped the person afterwards. They stayed with him for 30 or so minutes to make sure he was okay and didn’t need any medical assistance.”

As their previous supervisor, Rowe is grateful for the Airmen’s work ethic as well.

“(Senior Airman Rowland) has been a big leader since he’s put on senior airman and stepped up as our radio transitions operator at work,” Rowe said. “He’s been training all the new Airmen and has really stepped up to the plate.

“(Airman 1st Class Bracken) has been hitting the ground running ever since he got here. He has done everything that we’ve ever asked of him. He’s been great as a fire team member and a great troop. It’s been amazing being their supervisor.”

All 820th Base Defense Group defenders are trained to rapidly deploy at all times and maintain combat and specialty training standards, but are always willing to help a community partner in need.