Fort Shafter soldier honored for Kauai ocean rescues

HONOLULU — When a family was swept into the water by a rogue wave at Queen’s Bath in Princeville, Maj. Andrew “Drew” Downey knew what he had to do: He jumped in after them.

His actions are credited with saving the parents and their infant.

“I have to say I think a lot of people would do the same thing, and first responders do it every day without any thought for their own personal safety,” Downey said.

U.S. Army Pacific held an award ceremony for Downey Tuesday at Palm Circle, Fort Shafter, in Honolulu. Downey, a native of Philadelphia and special technical operations chief, received the Soldier’s Medal for rescuing the Milwaukee family on April 23.

Downey, who was visiting with his family from Oahu, jumped 20 feet into the rough water without hesitation and helped the two parents and their 11-month-old child to safety.

He first helped the mother to safety. After ensuring the mother was on shore, he then went back in the water and got the baby. Downey then assisted the father, who had found a rock to hold on to, negotiate his way back to a safe area.

Downey had learned later that the couple were not good swimmers. Queen’s Bath can be dangerous.

Gen. Robert Brown, commander of the U.S. Army in the Pacific, provided the opening remarks during the ceremony.

He spoke about Downey’s actions as well as selfless service, one of the many Army values.

“You look at (Drew’s actions) and you say, ‘well maybe everybody here would have done the same thing,’” Brown said. “I feel that as part of our Army values we would, but (Drew) did it.”

Brown also spoke on the cooperation between the military and the community.

“Military here in Hawaii is part of the fabric of the community, helping out in schools, volunteering in the community. It’s a key part, and we are very blessed to be here in this great state working together,” Brown said. “Drew is an example of that.”

After the opening remarks and the reading of the citation, Brown presented Downey with the Soldier’s Medal.

“Drew is going to receive the highest award you can receive during peacetime,” he said. “The Soldier’s Medal goes all the way up to the Secretary of the Army (for approval), and I’m really proud to be able to present this to Drew.”

Downey thanked everyone for coming out to the ceremony, saying he was doing what many other people would have done in a similar situation.

“I’m happy that everyone came away pretty much unscathed,” he said.

The Soldier’s Medal is the highest honor a soldier can receive for an act of valor in a non-combat situation. Actions by the service member involve personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy.

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