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Retired Army Ranger saves third drowning victim in four years

Maj. Gen. Scott Miller presented Sgt. 1st Class Nickolas Clarke, 6th Ranger Training Battalion, with a Soldier's Medal at Camp Rudder, Florida Oct. 8, 2014. (U.S. Army/Released)
September 22, 2018

A retired Army Ranger saved a young boy from drowning on Labor Day at a Florida beach on Okaloosa Island.

This wasn’t the first time Nickolas Clarke saved a drowning, nor his second. It was his third time saving a drowning victim in just four years, Northwest Florida Daily News reported.

In 2014, Clarke was awarded the Soldier’s Medal after saving two other people from drowning at the same beach.

The Soldier’s Medal is awarded for non-combat valor and is the highest of its kind handed down by the Army.

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Clarke and his family were at the beach over the holiday weekend when he heard a woman yelling for help. Clarke said: “She was screaming ‘Somebody help my kid. I looked over and that’s when I saw him out pretty far. I saw just a head in the waves.”

Quickly and fearlessly, Clarke and an airman from Eglin Air Force Base, Sgt. Cody Patterson, reacted and were able to save the boy.

The rescue happened around 3 p.m. on Labor Day as Tropical Storm Gordon was fast approaching. Rip currents were strong, warranting red flags to be posted across the beach. The pair struggled to stay afloat amid the forceful currents.

Okaloosa County Beach Safety Division Chief Rich Huffnagle said lifeguards saved another person from drowning that day and spent much of the day warning beach-goers about the dangers of the water conditions.

Once Clarke and Patterson reached safety with the boy, lifeguards and firefighters were on the scene. The boy was checked out and sent home with his mother.

Clarke said: “You would never expect in a million years for that to happen again. It happens quick; you either do something or you don’t,” referring to his previous rescues.

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In 2015, Clarke retired from the Army following an on-duty accident where he broke his neck, hurt his back, and dislocated his shoulder.

While Clarke is still on the road to recovery, he has no regrets.

Clarke said that he has some discomfort following the rescue but, in the end, it was worth it. He said: “Even if I had one leg and a missing arm, I’d still go out there.”