Marine saves child's life, awarded Air Force medal
KADENA AIR BASE, OKINAWA, Japan -- Staff Sgt. Benjamin G. Whalen was awarded the Air Force Achievement Medal July 8 during a ceremony at the 18th Wing Headquarters on Kadena Air Base for rescuing a 14-year-old boy at the Hagerstrom Pool on the air base June 25.
U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. James B. Hecker, commander of the 18th Wing, presented the medal to Whalen and recognized 10 other individuals who played vital roles in the rescue.
“In the face of crisis, these individuals spurred to action and collectively helped save the life of a member of our Kadena family,” said Hecker. “In my eyes, these men and women are heroes, and I am grateful to be recognizing them for their exemplary actions.”
Whalen noticed the adolescent lying at the bottom of the pool while he was swimming with his family June 25.
“I saw him at the bottom of the pool and my instincts and training kicked in,” said Whalen, the communications navigations staff noncommissioned officer in charge with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “It was natural — there was someone in trouble, and I had the skills to save him.”
Whalen completed Marine Corps water survival advanced training last year on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, and he has maintained his cardiopulmonary resuscitation certification since the age of 14.
“I’ve been swimming my whole life and took the advanced course to push myself,” said Whalen. “The course covers underwater rescue, unconscious rescue and how to retrieve the victim without causing more trauma.”
After swimming to the bottom of the pool, Whalen, with the help of others, pulled the victim out. Whalen immediately took charge of the situation by directing bystanders to call first-responders. While waiting for the emergency services to arrive, Whalen administered CPR for approximately 10 minutes.
“They were lucky to have the right guy there,” said Master Sgt. Robert C. Borjas, Whalen’s SNCOIC and the avionics chief with VMGR-152. “His training definitely played a part in his reaction.”
Whalen’s leadership and family were not surprised by his heroism, according to Messina Whalen, his wife.
“He’s always the type of person that is in the right place at the right time,” said Messina. “It’s every day we see him be a great man, and I knew he would step up to the plate.”
The boy was rushed by 18th Medical Group first-responders to U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, according to Hecker. The teen has been released from the hospital and has since been flown to the United States for further treatment.
“Whalen’s decisive actions and selfless act of courage saved the victim’s life and reflect credit upon himself and the U.S. Marine Corps,” said Hecker. “The victim is with us today and there is no doubt Whalen saved his life.”