In the wake of chaos: a face of courage arises

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mariette Adams
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla.--It was late April in the inlet of Lake Worth, Florida. The skies were clear and sunny with high winds from a storm that had passed a few days before. Master Sgt. Julian Cordova, a resource advisor assigned to the 6th Maintenance Squadron, was out on his boat with a few Airmen, enjoying the spring weather and a day of fishing.

Mid-morning, Cordova and his passengers decided to return to land as the waters became rough from the winds.

On their way back, they noticed something unusual.

“We were coming into the channel, when we saw two guys wearing life jackets on a boat 200 to 300 feet to the left of us,” explained Cordova,.  “As one of the boaters stood up, he put his hand in the air and sounded his air horn just before a wave pulled them and the boat underwater.”

The boaters re-emerged clinging to a floating ice chest.

Cordova and his team immediately took action and veered to the left, positioning their boat between the capsized boat and the two victims. Doing this prevented the victims from being smashed between the two boats. 

Cordova tied one of the victims to a dock line, preventing him from being lost in the waves. As his crew lifted the first victim out of the water, Cordova made his way to the second.

As they began rescue operations, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation and sheriff arrived, but remained at a distance to avoid having too many boats in the area during the rescue effort.

 “We were getting hit by six-foot waves from multiple directions,” explained Cordova. “The crew and I helped the second person into the boat and started the motor to move, but we were hit by a big wave and the boat began to fill with water.”

As the boat accelerated to an adequate speed to bail the water out, they nearly collided with the capsized boat. Shortly after, they were hit by a second wave.

The wave caused one of the victims to fall back into the water and the boat to flood calf-level.

“I went into survival mode as I looked at the passengers on my boat and realized we needed to get to shore,” said Cordova.

The crew began scooping the water out with a bucket and an ice chest and turned on the bilge pump to get some of the water out as the victim in the water floated to the other rescue boats.

Cordova throttled up and began navigating through the channel. The forward momentum bailed out some of the water and his crew, passenger and boat made it to safety.

In hindsight, Cordova attributes his decisive actions that day to the training he has received over the course of his career.

“My military experience has taught me to be calm in difficult situations and remain situationally aware so I know what to do next,” said Cordova. “The Florida Boater’s Safety Course and knowing how to operate and maintain my boat was vital in this situation.”

His noble efforts reach far beyond that day back in April.

“Cordova is in charge of my commander's support staff where he leads our team to take care of the needs of the entire squadron,” explained Lt. Col. Leah Vanagas, the commander of the 6th MXS. “This is the perfect job for him due to his selfless nature and willingness to help others succeed. He has always been a good mentor for the Airmen and exhibits servant leadership on a daily basis.”

Although he is now going up for the Vanguard Award for courage, he says what he did wasn’t about him.

 “Whether it’s this situation or serving in the military, I don’t do it for the recognition, it’s about helping one another out and doing the right thing,” said Cordova. “It’s not about you, but what you have to offer others.”

Even so, many call him a face of courage for risking so much to save others.

 “He risked his own life and boat to save helpless civilians from a deadly situation--he is the personification of service before self,” said Vanagas.