Story by MCSN Jacob Vermeulen, Amphibious Construction Battalion 2
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – In July 2017, Construction Electrician 2nd Class Tyler Chandler, a Seabee assigned to Amphibious Construction Battalion Two, went for what would become an eventful morning run on the beach in Mayport, Florida, after working an afternoon shift in support of Maritime Prepositioning Force Exercise (MPFEX) 17.
“I took off my shoes to get in the water and asked a guy that was nearby to watch them for me,” said Chandler. “By the time I got about waist deep, I heard screaming.”
In the distance, Chandler observed two figures bobbing in the water and thought they might have been a part of the exercise. “I knew it was the real deal when I saw one of them go under,” said Chandler. “I didn’t even think about it and before I knew it I was swimming out to them.”
The pair of swimmers were far out into the water and getting carried further out by the second. Chandler knew if he didn’t act soon they would no longer be visible from shore.
“It was a long swim, and all I could think is that there was a shark in the water,” said Chandler. “I wanted to get to them and get back as soon as I could.”
Chandler was not an experienced swimmer before joining the Navy, and it was only while stationed at Naval Air Station Sigonella from 2014 to 2017 did he spend much time in the water. “I had a friend who was training to become a SEAL, and he asked me to swim with him,” said Chandler. “I got comfortable in the water and learned the combat sidestroke there.”
The combat sidestroke is an efficient, sustainable swim technique that was developed and taught by U.S. Navy SEALS and is often used to tow wounded or unconscious individuals to safety.
Chandler explained that by the time he swam out to the struggling swimmers, he was able to identify that one was older and presumably the father of the other, younger swimmer.
“I swam up to help the dad, but he insisted that I help his son first because they were caught in a riptide,” said Chandler. “I reached out to the son and told him to get on his back. He was pretty panicked and taking on water by this time.”
A rip current, or riptide, is a strong, localized current of water that moves directly away from the shoreline. Rip currents can be extremely dangerous to novice swimmers and are the leading cause of rescues among lifeguards, and cause nearly 50 deaths per year on average. “Every summer the Navy has us attend training on how to stay safe while on or in the water,” said Chandler. “I never thought I’d have to use it.”
After swimming diagonally out of the rip current, Chandler began towing the son back to shore. By the time the water was shallow enough for him to walk, he saw a man splashing into the water to help. “It was the same guy I asked to watch my shoes,” said Chandler. “Turned out, he was the kid’s uncle and was coming in to help him onto the beach.”
Chandler said he noticed the father had fallen behind and was taking on water, so he swam back out and pulled him onto shore. “By the time I got back with the dad, we ran up the beach and saw that an ambulance had arrived and the son was already on a stretcher,” said Chandler. “I was relieved that everyone was out of the water and that the son was doing okay. He had taken on quite a bit of water and I was worried he wasn’t going to be okay.”
Both father and son were given medical treatment and made a full recovery.
John Wayne Long, Chandler’s leading chief petty officer, expressed high praise for Chandler and commended him for his bravery and steadfast dedication to the Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment. “He could have just as easily called 911, but he didn’t hesitate to act,” said Long. “That’s what being a Sailor is all about.”
Long went on to explain that Chandler was known for being knowledgeable and professional, and could always be depended on to do the right thing. “He put his life on the line not once, but twice for people he didn’t even know,” said Long. “He’s a hero.”