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 News Article

Face of Defense: Airman Saves Little Girl at Beach

By Air Force Airman 1st Class Tom Brading
Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs Office

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C., Aug. 15, 2012 – Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Proffitt reacted quickly at the beach to save the life of a drowning little girl.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Proffitt recently pulled a young girl from the ocean after a riptide pulled her out too far at Sullivan's Island, S.C. Proffitt faced another life-saving moment when he saved a co-worker who was choking on a turkey sandwich. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tom Brading

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

It started out as a beautiful weekend summer day on the ocean at Sullivan's Island, S.C.

Desperate cries for help were echoing faintly over the rolling ocean waves. The pleas were from a 7-year-old girl, pulled out past the breakers by a violent riptide and with every scream her weakened body gave in a little more to the powerful ocean current.

Proffitt, who’s assigned to the 373rd Training Squadron here, was nearby enjoying a day at the beach with his wife and children. He was wading far out in the water and heard the girl’s cries for help.

"I could see her more than 100 yards from the beach," Proffitt said. "I didn't have time to think about it. I just reacted."

Proffitt swam out to the girl. By the time he reached her, all he could see was her hair swaying effortlessly with the tide. Her body had slipped beneath the water. He pulled her head above water and she took a deep breath, but she had no energy to move.

"Had I arrived shortly after the moment I did, I would have never seen her," Proffitt said.

After grabbing the girl, he looked back toward the beach -- he had never been this far from shore. He couldn't feel the ocean bottom and the girl was clutching to his back as he slowly began paddling toward the beach.

"Every movement was a struggle," Proffitt said. "I had already used so much energy. Just keeping my head above water seemed to be a challenge. However, I kept thinking to myself: 'Do not let her die,' and so I kept fighting."

Proffitt continued fighting until he reached the shore. Once he felt the sand under his feet, he knew he was close enough to yell for help. A group of people brought both Proffitt and the girl safely back onto the beach.

The moment Proffitt was on dry land, he fell to his knees and stared up into the sky.

"It was a miracle," he said.

The little girl was safely returned to her parents.

However, this wasn't the first time Proffitt was challenged with the task of saving someone's life.

Months prior to the beach incident, Proffitt happened to be at the right place at the right time during the lunch hour at work. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Semmerling was eating a turkey sandwich when the unthinkable happened.

"I was eating turkey because it's supposed to be healthy," Semmerling said. "But, after I took a bite, I began choking. I couldn't breathe.”

Semmerling attempted to cough the turkey up by pounding his chest with his fist, but nothing seemed to work. He ran down the hall, his face turning from red to blue, when he stumbled into Proffitt's office.

"When he came in to my office, I had no idea what was wrong," Proffitt said. "But when I looked at his face, it was shades of blue, red and purple. I knew I had to react."

Without hesitation, Proffitt jumped from his desk and spun Semmerling, a 220-pound man, 180 degrees with ease and began doing the Heimlich maneuver. Proffitt continued monitoring the condition of his friend, and after a few thrusts, the turkey that was stuck in Semmerling's throat shot across the room.

"If it wasn't for Sgt. Proffitt, I wouldn't be here today," Semmerling said. "He is a hero."

Proffitt insists that he isn't a hero.

"I'm no hero," Proffitt said. "I've just been put into situations that required me to react. The Air Force has taught me lifesaving skills, and the importance of reacting quickly."


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