NEWS | June 17, 2021

Airman Saves Couple while on Vacation

By USCYBERCOM Public Affairs

Airman Saves Couple while on Vacation

What began as a beach trip for Air Force Maj. Terrence Raby’s six year old son’s birthday, became a lifesaving event, and an opportunity to teach a valuable life lesson.

Last year, many life events were put on pause, or rather, were not able to be celebrated in conventional ways. This was true for then five-year-old Nehemiah, Raby’s eldest of two sons. When Nehemiah announced he wanted to go to the beach to celebrate his sixth birthday, his parents decided to make a family trip of it.

Maj. Raby and his wife, Kamika, both from New Bern, North Carolina, chose a beach about an hour from their hometown, where they grew up attending rival schools.

The Raby family arrived in Indian Beach, a tiny seaside town in Carteret County, N.C., on May 9. The day after their arrival, the skies were gray and the waves were choppy. Nehemiah noticed a red flag placed in the sand and asked his father what the flag meant; Raby took the opportunity to teach his son about ocean conditions. He remembered a pamphlet in their room with descriptors for the different colored flags and returned with Nehemiah and Malachi to look it over.

Red represented unsafe swimming conditions including riptides and strong currents, a condition during which beach goers should not enter the water. Raby explained this to Nehemiah and Malachi, who were not ecstatic to learn swimming was cancelled for their first full beach day.

Instead of swimming, the Raby family went for a walk along the shore. While walking, Nehemiah saw two people in the water and he immediately asked his father, “How come they get to be in the water and we can’t get in the water?” Raby explained the people shouldn’t be in the water, because strong currents could sweep them away.

They continued walking but heard shouting just a few minutes later – “Help! Help!” – It was coming from the water. The same two swimmers the family saw earlier, now far out and caught in a riptide, couldn’t make it back to shore. A woman and man in their 20s had been boogey boarding, when they were swept out to sea. They both lost their grip on the boards as they were carried out, and the boards were now floating away, out of reach from the couple.

Raby’s initial instinct was to jump into the water, but his wife stopped him from jumping in without thinking. “That was the instinct in me - to just go in there and try to save them,” said Raby. “But then thank God for my wife.”

He realized she was right. Two panicking people in a riptide might turn into three people stuck in a riptide. He instead took a moment to analyze the situation as his wife called for emergency services.

Raby, an Operations Research Analyst for U.S. Cyber Command, uses combination of skills in mathematics and critical thinking daily to aid senior leader decision making.

His next decision – get the swimmers out of the riptide.

Raby started directing the swimmers through a combination of hand movements and shouts, instructing them to swim along the shoreline – parallel to the beach. This would move them from the riptide pulling them out to sea. Once the swimmers were out of the riptide, Raby instructed them to swim diagonally back to shore.

At this point, the female swimmer lost energy and exhaustion was beginning to set in. Raby saw her go under and tried his best to keep his composure. When she came up, he told her to float on her back to conserve energy. 

“I was like, ‘All right, catch your breath.  Now swim,’” said Raby. “And so she starts swimming and then I was like, ‘Get back on your back.’  Right, so you swim a little bit, exert some energy, and then rest.”

Once she escaped the riptide and got closer to shore, Raby went in the water to help her wade the rest of the way out. Raby and his family stayed with the exhausted swimmers until emergency services were able to arrive and provide further assistance.

For Raby, the most rewarding part was when one of the swimmers’ relatives rushed down to the beach and expressed her relief and gratefulness that Raby was there to help their loved ones.

“She’s running out and then, like, she gives them this real big hug,” said Raby. “She just kind of looked over at me and was like, ‘Hey, thank you. Thank you so much.”

The male swimmer also expressed gratitude.

 “He was like, ‘Hey, man, glad you were here, because I didn’t know what to do’,” said Raby. 

That was the first full day of the Rabys beach trip. Each time they went down to the beach after that, the first thing Nehemiah made sure to do, was identify what kind of flag was out that day.