JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - LACKLAND, Texas – A swim for Maj. Eric Hoopes and his family turned nightmarish with the discovery of a small boy submerged in the pool of a campground.
"What if we can't save him?" Hoopes, the commander of the 149th Fighter Wing's Detachment 1, remembers thinking. "But I had to block that off real quick. There was no giving up on this boy until help arrived."
Recalling the September incident, Hoopes remembered slapping the boy's feet and counting CPR compressions out loud for two women who began performing resuscitation techniques.
"I'm really grateful for my military training which I think helped me keep a cool head," he said. "We are taught to step and up and do what it takes to get things done."
Hoopes counted out compressions for the women and began rallying the crowd into action. He told his wife Tara to call 911. He directed a couple others to get buckets of water to dump onto the hot deck where the boy was lying.
"The deck was about 150 degrees, so this boy is just cooking," he said, remembering details of the day. "I also had people stand over him to give him shade."
Hoopes said his main goal was to direct the crowd and coach the women so they could focus on their resuscitation efforts.
While looking down at the lifeless boy, Hoopes noticed some things that only served to strengthen his resolve.
"He was wearing the same suit as my son and was about the same age and size," he said. "His naval cavity was distended and he looked clinically dead. It just caused a flood of emotions that spurred me to try even harder. I thought we have to do this. We have to save him."
After what felt like hours to him, but was actually between only 50 and 75 seconds, the boy's hand twitched. After two more seconds, he vomited and took his first breath.
"It wasn't a big deep breath like you might think," Hoopes said. "It was a shallow breath then he let out a moanish wail and we knew we were getting him back."
He and the two women then rolled him onto his side, careful to keep him still in case of a head injury.
"Once we got him back and started seeing his vital signs return, the pace at which his body warmed up really shocked me," Hoopes said. "It was like he got feverish in half a second."
Hoopes then expected to see a panicked relative nearby, but to his surprise that didn't happen.
"The odd thing was that no one was standing by crying 'my baby, my baby' or anything like that," he said.
As it turned out, a family reunion had been taking place next to the pavilion by the pool, and the little boy had sneaked out to the pool with his young cousin. According to Hoopes, the great grandmother and some other relatives arrived on the scene after the boy had already been revived.
The boy was airlifted to a hospital in Austin and kept in intensive care overnight.
He and the women integral to saving the boy's life hugged, high-fived and thanked each other for the teamwork.
Mary Alcorn Tanner, the cousin of the child's great grandmother, expressed gratitude to those involved on her Facebook page: "Yesterday was a day that reaffirmed my belief in Miracles and Guardian Angels sent from God," she posted on her page. She added that when her cousin finally left her great grandson's bedside, he was doing really well.
Hoopes said he knows the events unfolded the way they did for a reason.
"The pool was a dark color, a dark plaster," he said. "A person could be down there and you would not even see them, so the fact that this little girl was the only one swimming around with goggles on - the same ones that hit my feet earlier - you can call that whatever you want, but I believe it was God."
For Hoopes, that day left an indelible impression.
"It's an experience I'll never forget" Hoopes said. "It's an experience I hope to never repeat," he quickly added with emphasis. "But it could've turned out so differently. And it has really changed our perspective and brought us closer together as a family. We are trying to raise our boys to be problem solvers in our country, to be sheep dogs," he said referring to the idea that there are three types of people: sheep, wolves and sheep dogs. Sheep dogs, as the idea claims, protect the sheep from the wolves.
Because of this problem-solving type of training that he and his wife hope to impart on his sons, he was grateful his boys had witnessed the whole thing.
"Even though there were adults around, you can never assume another adult is watching your child," he said. "I want my boys to understand the importance of looking out for each other because even though my five-year-old can swim like a fish, something could still happen, so I want my boys to remember that day."
But with a greater sense of responsibility, he also stressed the importance of not being too critical of others.
"It's easy to throw spears at someone who lets a four-year-old get out of sight, but anyone with children knows that can happen in an instant," he said. "We all need to be more aware, and I just want to share this story with anyone who will listen. I witnessed a miracle and I won't ever forget it."