PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- At the 920th Rescue Wing, the main mission is right there in the title. While the wing's primary focus is combat search and rescue, not every rescue involves combat, searching, or even pararescuemen. In fact, one of the most recent rescues was simply three noble airmen bravely doing the right thing.
Master Sergeant Kenneth Swainston, a reservist with the 920th RQW at Patrick, the Air Force Reserve Command's only rescue wing, was driving home after working an annual training day on base Sept. 6.
Swainston, who serves as a patrol officer and SWAT member for the Palm Bay Police Department in Bervard County, Fla., in his full-time civilian job, said he noticed a vehicle in the Indian River as he was driving on the Pineda causeway in Melbourne, Fla., just a few miles from the base.
"Once I pulled on scene I saw the deputy with his gun drawn, pointing at the car," Swainston said.
At that moment, seeing there was only one law enforcement officer on scene, Swainston, without hesitation, took it upon himself to assist the deputy in any way necessary.
The situation was unsafe and unordinary. The deputy had just shot a suspect who had been stabbing a woman in the passenger seat of a car, which was sinking into the river. Swainston knew he had to act quickly in this life or death situation. He grabbed tools from his car to break the back window of the semi-submerged vehicle, opened the passenger door, assisted the deputy in removing the victim from the car, and began administering first aid to her onshore.
"I just reacted to the situation; I didn't think about anything but helping the victim in the car and assisting the deputy with the scene," said Swainston, who spent 18 years in Security Forces, 15 years as a police officer and deputy sheriff, and a combined 12 years of experience as a SWAT member for the Bingham County Sheriff's Office in Idaho and the Palm Bay Police Department.
"I feel anyone of us in the military would have responded as I did; I just happen to have a little more training and expertise as a police officer," he added. "It also helped that I was in my patrol vehicle that day. Everything happens for a reason."
Two active-duty service members did, in fact, respond as he did. Master Sgt. Rodney Huffman and Staff Sgt. Jesus Pino of the 45th Space Wing also at Patrick helped local law enforcement alongside Swainston during the incident. Swainston said they both assisted him greatly by helping him with equipment and providing timely information to him and follow-on responders. He said they set aside their own needs to care for a complete stranger, proving to be unselfish assets during the volatile situation.
"I think they were there to assist and did what we as the military are trained to do--go the extra mile no matter what," Swainston said of Huffman and Pino.
Huffman thanked Swainston for his kind words, but said Swainston was the true hero.
"Just seeing the way you transformed from master sergeant to police officer was absolutely amazing!" Huffman told Swainston. "Of course, I have no doubt the values and training you've received in the military... had a great part to do with the outstanding way you responded, but your actions as a police officer were astounding!"
Pino echoed Huffman's positive view of Swainston, saying he was inspired by Swainston's heroic efforts.
"(Swainston) showed a resolve that should be modeled by all airmen alike," Pino said. "(He) lead by example with a 'let's get it done because it is the right thing to do' attitude."
Lt. Col. Brian Tully, Swainston's military supervisor, said Swainston's actions were perfectly in line with his character and were done with an impressive level of humility.
"He is a true leader in every sense of the word," Tully said of Swainston. "His willingness to get involved comes as no surprise to me or anyone that knows him."
The victim was taken to the hospital, where medical personnel treated her for 31 stab wounds. Swainston's quick reaction, knowledge and experience played a critical role in rescuing the victim. Like most true heroes, however, Swainston remains modest about his brave, skillful and selfless actions.
"I don't feel like a hero or like I did anything extraordinary," Swainston said. "I simply reacted to the situation at hand -- it's what I have been trained to do."
Swainston, Huffman and Pino clearly personify the 920th RQW's motto, "These things we do, that others may live."