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Home : News
NEWS | April 7, 2022

Kentucky Air Guardsmen rescue drowning infant

By Philip Speck, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Three Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron saved the life of a drowning infant at the Mary T. Meagher Aquatic Center March 15.

According to Master Sgt. Devin Butcher, a combat controller with the 123rd STS, the team had just finished unrelated training at the center when he noticed a civilian swim instructor was holding an infant.

“I’d seen him there multiple times before, but this time he had a strange look on his face — an ‘I need help’ look on his face. Clearly, he was someone who was in shock,” Butcher said. “Then I observed an infant in his hands that was blue, with mucus coming from the nose and mouth, which is what’s apparent for a drowning victim.”

He took the baby and determined he was not breathing on his own. Butcher handed the infant to Tech. Sgt. Ryan Penne, a pararescueman with the 123rd STS, who with Master Sgt. Elmer Quijada started performing CPR.

“I didn’t know necessarily what was going on,” Penne said. “I just had a baby put in my arms that was unresponsive and blue and cold. So, I started going through the medical procedures to try to revive him.”

Butcher said what happened next was a team response.

“I looked at another teammate of ours and told him to call 911 and looked at one of the lifeguards and told him to go and grab their (automated external defibrillator). The team just started huddling and doing all their different roles. We had guys who were grabbing hypothermia blankets. We had individuals who were getting oxygen,” Butcher said.

“After a couple minutes, the baby started slowly coming back to life, the color started coming back and the baby was starting to be able to breathe on his own. But we put oxygen over his nose and mouth, just to help him facilitate that, and then wrapped him up in the hypothermia blankets to keep the baby warm.

“It was definitely a team and joint effort. There was absolutely no one person. It was ‘right place, right time.’ I mean, if it would’ve been three minutes before or three minutes after us walking out, I don’t know what the situation would’ve been like.”

Emergency medical technicians arrived and took the baby to a hospital. The boy is doing well.

Butcher and Penne agreed their military medical training, instilled through years of work as combat EMTs, was key to helping save the infant.

“The training just kicked in,” Butcher said. “People say that, and it’s a cliché, but it’s really true. Being able to assess a situation very quickly and realize if there’s somebody that needs help or there’s an action that we can do to make a situation better — it’s all instinctual.”

Quijada, a pararescueman, agreed.

“We train to work under intensely stressful conditions and respond quickly to life-or-death situations,” Quijada said. “Whether it’s a combat situation or a drowning infant, stress is stress. I’m grateful for the training the military has provided me, and for the team to react the way they did.”

Butcher called the resolution of the event a “blessing and a miracle.”

“We were there at the right place at the right time. That’s the unique thing about the Air Guard: We get to be civilian Airmen. Any time we get to help the community, it’s phenomenal. The outcome here was an absolute miracle, and I’m grateful for that.”