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When Sgt. Michael Austin Pickett saw an 8-year-old boy struggling to keep his head above water in the Atlantic Ocean, the Marine didn’t hesitate. He sprinted into the water and swam out to help.
The child had already been pulled about 70 yards out to sea by a rip current when Pickett, a 2006 graduate of Hixson High School, noticed people on shore shouting and pointing toward the foundering youth
“As soon as I saw him, I knew he didn’t have a chance by himself,” says Pickett. “I’m trained in water rescue. In the Marines, we train in how to rescue somebody with all the military gear on.”
Pickett, 25, is a special intelligence communicator at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., with Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2. He says he happened to be at Atlantic Beach, N.C., to relax while off-duty on July 6.
Although putting himself at risk of being pulled out to sea, too, Pickett swam out and grabbed the boy, reassuring him that he was safe to calm him.
“I held his head above water to let him catch his breath. I told him I was going to get him back to shore,” says the Marine.
The riptide was pulling both of them further out to sea, Pickett says, so he swam perpendicular to the current until the tide no longer affected their course. All the while, he supported the child with one arm, swam with the other and “let him know whenever a wave was coming so he could hold his breath.”
“Still supporting the weight of the boy, and now further away from safety, he made his way back to shore,” says Marine Gunnery Sgt. Elek L. Williams in a news release.
The pair was met by a lifeguard about 20 yards from shore, who offered his help, but Pickett says the youth walked in to where his mother was waiting.
“I have a son that’s about to turn 6, so the only thing I could think of was ‘What if it was him out there,’ and I would hope someone else would do the same thing,” the Marine says. “I would 100 percent do the exact same thing if I was presented with the same situation again. Marines are trained more than the average person, and if we can use the skills we have been taught to help someone in need, I think we should do it, no questions asked.”
For his heroic action, the Marine has been nominated by Marine Wing Headquarters Station for the seventh annual American Hero Awards, which are presented by Maj. Gen. Raymond C. Fox, commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force.
Pickett is the son of Ed and Dixie Pickett of Hixson and has been in military service for six years, says his father.
“He told me about it that day,” Ed Pickett says. “I was surprised he was in that situation, but it didn’t surprise me he did whatever he could to help.”
But his son downplayed the incident when talking to his father about it.
“We really didn’t know the full extent until we read the Marines’ release later,” Ed Pickett says. “He just said ‘The kid was splashing around and I swam out there and dragged him in,’ instead of telling us he swam out in a rip current.”
Austin Pickett says he will be deployed overseas in March to serve in embassy security.
<em>Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at spierce@</em><em>timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.</em>