Corporal Matthew Adkins didn't expect the trip to Hunting Island State Park and beach with his wife Cortney, Sullivan, their two children Brylin Adams and Kinsley Adkins and friend Caleb Reed, to turn into anything more than a few fun memories, but that summer day, July 18, 2010, in Beaufort, S.C., transformed into a defining moment rather quickly.
"The kids were playing in the water, and a park ranger passed by," Adkins said. "He said a man had gotten caught in a rip tide. Two men had already made an attempt to save him, but got caught. They had called a helicopter, but all I could see was three little figures struggling to stay above water, so I took off and swam out to them."
Military reports state that Beaufort resident Marc Whitehead "was swimming a little off shore on a styrofoam floating noodle."
The current had pushed him 150-200 yards offshore.
Whitehead's wife and children accompanied him to the beach that day and were all there to see Adkins save their family member.
Two bystanders, Oscar Sosa and Carlos Pesteria, sustained multiple lacerations after their attempts to save Whitehead threw them into rocks.
Luckily, there was a Marine on the shore who had acquired the highest level of water training given to military men.
"Using his Water Survival Qualification, obtained through the Marine Corps water survival training, Lance Corporal Adkins entered the water and swiftly swam toward Whitehead's position," the report reads.
Once he arrived, he identified himself and instructed Whitehead to stop struggling and calm down.
Adkins told Whitehead he would assist him out of the current and continue to shore.
"It only took about 45-50 minutes for all of this to happen, and the only thing he was treated for after he got back to shore was fatigue and exhaustion," Adkins said. "When we got back, everyone was losing their minds. I just knew I had to do something about this or this guy was going to die."
Adkins explained he was taught several principles in his training that helped him successfully retrieve Whitehead: "Check for breathing, calm the victim and never turn your back on the victim."
Adkins added he also has former experience as a lifeguard when he worked at the YWCA in Vigo County, before his career with the Marines.
Adkins' commanding officer said he is proud.
"It's what we expect of our Marines, but when we have a guy who actually does what he's been trained, we are pretty proud," USMC Captain Michael Costa told The Brazil Times. "There were quite a few people just standing there looking at what was going on. He took the initiative to do something when others had said there was already help on the way. He had the ability and the confidence needed."
Costa added they are still waiting to hear about an exact date of an awards ceremony for Adkins.