A Whidbey Island navy veteran has been honored for saving two boys who were drowning off a Florida beach.
It happened August 12 when Fernando Espinoza, Jr. heard the boys screams for help in the waters off Panama City, Florida.
Espinoza swam roughly 50 yards to get to the boys. He put one of them on his back and took the other under his right arm, and together they swam back shore.
"At first, I thought they were just messing around. But then I saw the rip-tide take them under,” Espinoza said in a news release.
The boys had tried to signal to a lifeguard on duty, but went unnoticed.
For his quick response, Espinoza was awarded the Army's Safety Guardian Award.
"Had it not been for the quick actions of Mr. Espinoza, this situation could have ended tragically for the children," Brig. Gen. David J. Francis, Commanding General, Army Combat Readiness Center and director of Army Safety at Fort Rucker, said in a news release. "Mr. Espinoza's rapid response, performing under extreme pressure and hazardous conditions, demonstrate the highest standards of our Army values and our warrior ethos."
Espinoza, an occupational safety and health specialist, works at NAS Whidbey Island's Safety Department and was vacationing on a beach in Panama City, Florida when he heard the screams.
Espinoza grew up in El Paso, Texas, and served eight years of active duty in the Navy from 2001-09. He has been serving as a federal government employee on NAS Whidbey Island since 2009 and as an occupational safety and health specialist since 2014.
But he is now quick to downplay his actions.
"Anyone else would have done the same thing," he said. "I have three kids myself; Sophia, 5, Jacob, 8, and Dominic 11 years old. I would want someone to help them out if they ever needed it. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."