Naval Helicopter Aircrewman 2nd Class James P. Buriak, a rescue swimmer assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 8, was walking along Gun Beach in Tumon with his friends when they were stopped by two tourists.
They had heard cries for help coming from the water and were looking for someone who could swim. Buriak quickly leapt into action, handed his phone and wallet to his friends and jumped into the ocean toward the distressed people.
“I just happened to be the person there,” said Buriak. “I would like to think that regardless of who it was, they would have done the same. Someone said they needed help, and anyone would do the same in my shoes.”
As he swam out into the ocean, he noticed a surfer paddling toward one of the two in distress. After quickly talking to the surfer, he swam out toward the person closest to him, a younger man in his 20s.
The man told Buriak he was alright, and motioned to his friend who was being helped by the man with the surfboard. As Buriak made his way to the surfer and made sure the two of them were safe, he heard screams from the man he had spoken to seconds before. Without a second thought, he started swimming back to the man, and was swept up by the rip current.
“Once I got past the reef line, I could tell he was stuck in the current, it really grabbed me and immediately pushed me to him.” said Buriak.
Once he got to the man, Buriak saw he was barely keeping his head above water.
“I turned him around and hooked my arm around him in a ‘buddy tow’ [a passive sidestroke used to transport people to shore],” said Buriak. “I took him sideways away from the current, and started heading back to the beach. That’s when I found the reef with my foot.”
The reef allowed them to stand, but the victim was so exhausted he couldn’t stand up on his feet, explained Buriak. With the waves crashing on their backs, Buriak walked him down the coral, toward the shore, cutting his foot in the process. As they came closer, a man threw a boogie board to them and helped bring the two back to land.
The group was met by local firefighters and EMS, who were tending to the first person brought back to shore. After thanking Buriak for saving his life, the tourist was put on a stretcher and taken away to emergency services.
Chief Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) Aaron Albright, Buriak’s chief, saw everything unfold and took note of his Sailor jumping in without hesitation.
“This is the kind of thing we train for,” said Albright. “I couldn’t be prouder. He handled it flawlessly.”
Gun Beach, a beautiful beach in Guam, is known for swallowing people into the ocean. The authorities told Buriak that with the amount of water the tourists had swallowed and how tired they were, they were lucky Buriak came to their aid when he did. He wasn’t expecting his day to turn out the way it did.
“Truthfully from here on out when I think of my first visit to Guam, running into the water and saving that man will be pretty high on the list of memories.”, said Buriak. “For the rest of your life, you never forget something like that.”
(Story by Seaman Erik Melgar, USS Theodore Roosevelt)