McChord Airman to be honored as hero
By Tech. Sgt. Sean Tobin, 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 07, 2015
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (AFNS) -- A Joint Base Lewis-McChord Airman has been selected by the American Red Cross Northwest Region to be honored at their 2015 annual Heroes Luncheon later this year in Tacoma.
Senior Airman Joshua Calhoun, a 62nd Maintenance Squadron precision measurement equipment laboratory journeyman, will be recognized as a hero for risking his own life while rescuing a surfer who got stranded on a rocky cliff after getting caught in a rip current. The rescue occurred in April at Ecola State Park, Oregon.
"I caught a wave and I looked over and saw this guy waving his arms above his head, which usually means 'shark'," Calhoun said.
Heeding the shark warning, Calhoun headed back to the shore.
"But I didn't get that eerie feeling of a shark; there were no reported attacks in the area and the seal population isn't huge, so I started thinking the guy was trapped on the outcropping of rocks," he said.
Calhoun's instincts proved correct. The surfer had gotten pushed into the rocky outcropping which runs perpendicular to the shore. The ebb and flow of the tide against the rocks creates small whirlpools, making it difficult for inexperienced swimmers to escape.
Calhoun noticed that where the stranded surfer was standing, he couldn't be seen from the shore because larger rock formations were in the way. Knowing that the water would be rising soon, Calhoun decided he would have to rescue the surfer himself, rather than wait for rescue services to be called.
Not wanting to get caught in the current himself, Calhoun climbed over a large rock formation in order to reach the surfer. Once over the set of rocks, the surf slammed him against the rocks, causing his hands to become bloody. Once over that first rock structure, he decided would be able to safely swim the remaining distance, so he jumped in the water.
"As I got to him, I could see that water was slowly lapping up close to his feet," Calhoun said. "I caught my breath, made sure the leash of his board was tied and explained what we were about to do."
Calhoun instructed the exhausted surfer to get on his board and together they would swim 100 feet perpendicular to the outcropping, far away from the rip current, then head back to shore once safely away from the rocks.
"I was pulling him on his board and he was so tired that he wasn't able to help paddle," Calhoun said. "I made him get off his board and hold my foot as I got on it and paddled away from the rocks.
Once far enough away from the rocks, they turned and began heading to shore. Calhoun saw a wave forming so the two once again swapped places.
"I got him back on the board, shoved him into the wave and it took him to shore,” Calhoun said. “I made sure he was safe and then I gave him some homework -- some safety articles to research online so he'd know what to do if he ever got in this situation again."
Master Sgt. Daniel Thomas, the 62nd MXS PMEL shop chief, helped get Calhoun nominated for the Red Cross award.
"Josh has been so humble during this whole thing," Thomas said. "It's been difficult to get information out of him. He keeps saying, 'Anyone would have done the same thing. I didn't even think about it. He was stuck.'"
Thomas said Calhoun, an avid surfer who has been surfing with his father since he was very young, is probably more comfortable in the water than most people are on land.
"This wasn't a big deal to him," Thomas said. “It was just another day at the office."
The Red Cross will present Calhoun's award during the luncheon, scheduled for Oct. 13.