MCAS Miramar --
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. -- The staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Fuels at Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, MCAS Miramar, was recognized here June 13 for rescuing a local child while serving in Mauritania.
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Christine M. Houser, the commanding officer of Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, awarded Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Garcia the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on behalf of Commandant of the Marine Corps, David H. Burger, for his actions while serving as the commander of Marine Security Guard Detachment, U.S. Embassy Nouakchott.
The rescue took place on Sultan Beach, Nov. 1, 2020. As Garcia and his wife, Nikki, strolled along the shore, they noticed a group of children battling a violent rip current. The current was pulling one child away from the group.
“His face was just motionless, and he was looking at me, and that's when I knew he needed help,” said Garcia.
Garcia immediately dove into the freezing water and swam toward the drowning child, who had been dragged approximately 300 yards from shore.
“I didn't think he was going to be alive when I got to him,” said Garcia.
Once Garcia got hold of the child, he instinctively oriented himself on the next objective: fighting the current and returning to shore.
As Garcia analyzed the situation, the first wave struck. Using his Marine Corps Combat Water Survival training, he took the child underneath the wave and pressed on.
The child clung to Garcia but lost his grip as a second wave struck. Garcia grabbed hold of the boy, but now he was fighting against the current with only one arm.
As Garcia pressed toward the shore, a third wave struck, tumbling them in a disorienting whirl. For a moment, Garcia lost his sense of direction, but the cries of his wife helped him reorient on the shoreline, even as a fourth wave struck.
“I call her the unsung hero,” said Garcia. “After the fourth one hit me, I really didn't think that I was going to survive. I just kept hearing my wife calling my name, and that made me keep going.”
The surf was so strong that Garcia couldn’t escape by himself, even after he reached shallow water. He needed the assistance of his wife, Nikki, who urgently called out for help to local Mauritanians in fluent Arabic.
Nikki rounded up 20 people, including herself, and organized them into a human chain that extended into the churning surf. The last man set his feet in the firm sand, anchoring the chain against the current as the last man stretched his hand toward Garcia.
Garcia said he had never experienced a raging storm like the one he experienced off the coast of Mauritania that day, but the crisis ended happily. Once they were back on land, the child required minimal aid. Nikki was able to speak to the boy to make sure he was ok before they parted ways.
“I feel that any Marine would have done the same thing, because that's what we do,” said Garcia. “That's what we know how to do. We’re the tip of the spear, and I don't have any doubt in my mind that if anyone was there, even an iron duck Marine, they would've gone out there and at least attempted to save that child's life.”
Although Garcia spoke humbly about his actions on the coast of Mauritania that day, the Marine Corps praised him effusively. Garcia was recognized for his swift action in the face of great personal risk and remarkable courage, as stated in his citation.
“Demonstrating courageous and swift action in the face of great personal risk, he prevented the loss of an innocent life," reads the citation signed by the Commandant. "By his audacious actions and selfless dedication to duty, (then) Staff Sergeant Garcia reflected great credit on himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”