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Face of Defense: Marine Draws Inspiration From Aiding in Boy's Rescue

By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Andy Martinez 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force

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CAMP FOSTER, Japan, Aug. 25, 2017 — Cries of a desperate mother and the sight of a child's limp body on the beach alarmed Marine Corps Capt. Justin Griffis, who was spending a normal day snorkeling with his family at Maeda Flats in Okinawa, Japan, July 23.

Marine Corps Capt. Justin Griffis, a current operations and training officer with Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, assisted in the rescue of a 7-year old Japanese boy who almost drowned at Maeda Flats, Okinawa, Japan, July 23, 2017. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Laura Gauna
Marine Corps Capt. Justin Griffis, a current operations and training officer with Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, assisted in the rescue of a 7-year old Japanese boy who almost drowned at Maeda Flats, Okinawa, Japan, July 23, 2017. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Laura Gauna
Marine Corps Capt. Justin Griffis, a current operations and training officer with Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, assisted in the rescue of a 7-year old Japanese boy who almost drowned at Maeda Flats, Okinawa, Japan, July 23, 2017. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Laura Gauna Marine aids in rescue of 7-year old Japanese boy, inspired to make a difference
Marine Corps Capt. Justin Griffis, a current operations and training officer with Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, assisted in the rescue of a 7-year old Japanese boy who almost drowned at Maeda Flats, Okinawa, Japan, July 23, 2017. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Laura Gauna

Griffis shoved through the mass of people who had gathered and was immediately drawn to the lifeless body of a 7-year old Japanese boy.

"My first thoughts were, 'They need help. How can I help?'" said Griffis, a current operations and training officer with Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. "There was a moment where I thought, 'Oh my God, what do I do?' but that thought went away the moment it arrived. That's when my training kicked in."

Griffis, like most Marines, took a CPR class and knew what had to be done. However, after his initial shock wore off, Griffis said, he noticed a woman already administering CPR to the boy.

Rachel Gruber, an emergency room nurse with U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa here, was administering chest compressions in accordance with CPR procedures. Several other service members also were present, trying to assist the boy in any way they could.

Without hesitation, Griffis began to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the boy.

"Every time I gave emergency breathing, I was getting water, vomit and blood back," said Griffis, a native of Arvada, Colorado. "It's not pretty, it's scary, it's disgusting, and it's horrifying. For a minute I couldn't help to think, 'What if this was my daughter here? What if my daughter was in his position and needed help?"

Safe Transport

The boy desperately needed to get to a hospital, so when Gruber and Griffis noticed a man holding a boogie board, they sprang into action as Griffis' wife, Jen, raced toward him.

Using the board as a makeshift stretcher, Griffis, Gruber and Marine Corps Sgt. Bradley Best transported the boy swiftly and carefully away from the beach. Best is a ground training noncommissioned officer in charge with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

With no response from the boy, Gruber yelled for someone to get an automated external defibrillator. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Jonathan Fassnacht and his wife, Octa, immediately took off in search of one. Moments later, they ran into the surf medics, who were already on their way with the machine. The team struggled to dry the boy's wet body to attach the defibrillator and send an electric shock to his heart.

After several attempts at doing so, they loaded him onto the ambulance that had just arrived. The emergency medical technicians raced to the nearest hospital, leaving Griffis and the others in stunned silence. After EMTs picked up the boy, he was immediately taken to a nearby hospital, and later was transferred to a hospital in mainland Japan, where his family resides.

Realization

Griffis said he snapped back to reality when he caught sight of his family.

"My wife and two kids were trucking up the hill with all of the stuff we brought to the beach," he said. "It got real to me at that point; this could have easily been one of them if I kept my eyes off of them."

Griffis said the harrowing incident drove him to take action and inspired him. He got with Red Cross and his unit's family readiness officer to develop a CPR class not only for service members, but also for their spouses.

"You never know when you're going to be the one who needs help," Griffis said. "Sometimes, you need to lend a helping hand to someone else, so have the knowledge. Have the skill set. Going through the training myself prepared me to act, but I still need a refresh to know the latest and greatest."
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