An Airman from Kadena Air Base, Japan, has received an Air Force Achievement Medal for saving the lives of a mother and daughter at Tataki waterfall in Okinawa earlier this year, the 18th Wing told Air Force Magazine.
Airman 1st Class Leonard Cantrell Jr. was on an April hiking trip with friends at the waterfall, which is located in Japan’s Yambaru National Park, when he spotted the woman and her children approaching a deep section of water near the landmark, according to a wing release.
He said something seemed off, so he trusted his gut and slowed his pace to ensure the group was safe.
“The small boy decided to go back to the shore; however, the mother and her daughter decided to try and swim to the other side,” he recalled in the release. “As I watched she began to get more and more tired. Her head was dipping under the water and her movements were becoming erratic.”
In response to cries from the little girl and the mom’s continued struggle to stay above water, he said he decided to swim to their aid.
“I quickly got to them and gently pulled them back toward the shallow water and rocks where the mother regained her footing,” he said in the release.
Once the mom caught her breath and Cantrell was able to ensure neither she nor her daughter were in shock, the release explained, he parted ways with them.
Cantrell, an 18th Communications Squadron executive communications technician, described the rescue as the stuff of serendipity, since he “just happened to be in the right place at the right time”—especially considering the waterfall’s remote location.
“We are all neighbors at the end of the day, so it’s important to remember to be a positive ambassador wherever we go and help out if needed,” he said in the release. “I’m thrilled that the family is safe. That’s most important.”
About four months later, Cantrell’s squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Daniel E. Waid, presented him with the medal in recognition of his actions that day, the wing said.