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Saginaw Air Force sergeant gets medal for saving woman from drowning in Mediterranean Sea

Then-Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Juarez, 49th Communications Squadron base assets manager, stands in front of his New Mexico Search and Rescue truck at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., March 13, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Turner/Released)

A Saginaw native serving in the U.S. Air Force has earned military honors for saving the life of a woman in danger of drowning.

Tech. Sgt. Nathaniel Juarez received an Air Force Commendation Medal on June 24 for saving the woman in 2017 while he was on leave. The medal recognizes Air Force personnel who distinguish themselves by meritorious achievement and service.

Juarez said he was touring the Mediterranean Sea near Bodrum, Turkey, when he noticed a woman on his tour struggling to keep afloat while swimming nearby. Passing ships were creating an undertow in the water and swept the woman away from their tour boat.

Juarez swam about 60 feet in the strong current to reach the exhausted woman. He then helped her back to the tour boat.

“It was exhausting, but hearing her struggle kept me going,” Juarez said. “Luckily, all of the military training and conditioning prepared me for the action.”

He said he was “shocked and honored” to receive an Air Force award for “just doing what I thought was right,” he added.

Juarez grew up in Saginaw before moving to North Carolina in high school. He still has family in Saginaw, though, and Juarez said he considers it his home. He hopes to visit them for Christmas this year.

Juarez has been stationed in Germany since 2016, where he lives with his wife and two children. He oversees the Air Force’s largest communication squadron, the 379th Expeditionary Communications Squadron, which supports 18,000 users across 22,000 systems, according to Juarez’s official Air Force biography. Since joining the Air Force in 2007, he has received 11 awards and decorations for his performance in IT communications.

Juarez said he was supposed to finish his last six-month deployment in Germany a month ago, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, he will stay in the country another month. After that, Juarez will celebrate his 13th year in active duty on July 24 and wait for his next deployment.

“I’m actually one of the Air Force members that might be moving to the Space Force,” Juarez said. “I find out between July and November. I think it would be an exciting move and something new, a great chance to pave the way and pioneer some military traditions for a new branch.”

In the meantime, Juarez hopes others see how important it is to help those in need, just as he did when he acted quickly to save a woman’s life in 2017.

“I would just like others to know that it’s important to react and help others when they are in need,” Juarez said. “I’m grateful that she was able to return to her family and that we both made it out the dangerous waters.”


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