A civilian Naval Air Station Whidbey Island employee saved two children from drowning while on a recent trip to a Florida beach.
Fernando Espinoza Jr., an occupational safety and health specialist who works at NAS Whidbey Island's Safety Department, traveled to Panama City Beach, Fla., Tuesday, from Fort Rucker, Ala., where he was attending a safety management course.
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Espinoza was relaxing when he heard screams for help coming nearly 150 feet offshore, Navy Region Northwest spokesman Phil Guerrero said.
"I heard kids screaming," Espinoza said. "At first, I thought they were just messing around. But then I saw the rip tide take them under."
Espinoza jumped up, running and swimming about 50 yards to reach the two boys in distress. The two brothers, 8 and 9 years old, had been trying to get the attention of the lifeguard, but were unsuccessful.
Espinoza, who was chest deep in water, put one of the children on his back and the other under his right arm and headed back to shore.
The lifeguard said he never heard the screams for help.
"The lifeguard was a long way off," Espinoza said. "By the time I got the kids back to shore, the lifeguard responded."
Espinoza was awarded the Army's Safety Guardian Award for his actions.
"Had it not been for the quick actions of Mr. Espinoza, this situation could have ended tragically for the children," said Brig. Gen. David J. Francis, Commanding General, Army Combat Readiness Center and Director of Army Safety at Fort Rucker. "Mr. Espinoza's rapid response, performing under extreme pressure and hazardous conditions, demonstrate the highest standards of our Army values and our warrior ethos."
Espinoza grew up in El Paso, Texas, and served eight years of active duty in the Navy from 2001-2009. He has been serving as a federal government employee on NAS Whidbey Island since 2009 and as an occupational safety and health specialist since 2014.
"Anyone else would have done the same thing," he said. "I have three kids myself. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."
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