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McChord Airman saves girl from drowning

Staff Sgt. Matthew Siegele, the 627th Force Support Squadron sports and fitness NCO in charge, saved a little girl from drowning on the afternoon of Jan. 1, 2016, when she was walking on a frozen Carter Lake at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and fell through the ice. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Divine Cox)

Staff Sgt. Matthew Siegele, the 627th Force Support Squadron sports and fitness NCO in charge, saved a little girl from drowning on the afternoon of Jan. 1, 2016, when she was walking on a frozen Carter Lake at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and fell through the ice. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Divine Cox)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (AFNS) -- In or out of uniform, Airmen are required to uphold the Air Force’s core values at all times, and should always be aware of their surroundings.

Staff Sgt. Matthew Siegele, the 627th Force Support Squadron sports and fitness NCO in charge, had his situational awareness tested Jan. 1 when a little girl fell through the ice on Carter Lake at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

Siegele was at the park next to Carter Lake with his daughter. While there, his daughter spotted three girls playing and asked if she could play with them.

"Yes you can go play," Siegele said. "As long as you stay off the ice, I'm OK with that."

Siegele said as he watched the girls play, the oldest girl would try and talk the other girls into seeing how far they could walk across the ice. He advised them not to do that, because it might not be safe.

"I took control of my daughter," Siegele said. "The other girls shrugged me off and proceeded onto the ice."

Siegele said later that afternoon, before sunset, one of the girls yelled, "It's time to go home."

"As soon as I looked up, I could hear screaming," Siegele said. "I looked back to where I last saw the little girl on the ice and seen that she had fallen in. She was waving her arms in the air and screaming for help."

Siegele made the quick decision to run around the lake to the side closest to her so he could reach her safer.

"I knew the ice couldn't hold my weight," Siegele said. "Running around to the other side was my only option to try to save her."

Siegele said as he round the fence line, he saw a man get out of a silver van and run toward the lake.

"I followed the individual into the ice," Siegele said. "We were determined to help this little girl."

The individual got to the girl before Siegele. He and the other man then started swimming back to the shore with the little girl between them when suddenly the man went under water and Siegele lost grip of the girl, causing her to go under as well.

"I reached for her, but I couldn't feel her," Siegele said. "So I dove under to find her and managed to pull her up by her jacket."

Siegele and the little girl resurfaced and headed to shore just as the other man reached the shore.

"Once we got to shore, I took off her jacket and the individual grabbed my jacket that I took off before entering the water and put it on her," Siegele said.

Siegele said as he picked up the phone to call 911, the girl’s father arrived to the lake in a panicked state.

"The dad grabbed his little girl and headed home," Siegele said. "We all exchanged information, but I was so cold and out of it, I forgot everything."

Later that night, Siegele contacted the parents of the little girl, after finding their phone number in his phone to see if she was OK.

Siegele said her parents thanked him for saving their daughter.

"I'm just glad I was there," Siegele said. "All the training I've got through my years in the Air Force prompted me to react quickly enough and ultimately save her life."

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