Tennessee airman helps save drowning Alaskan

Man's family honors rescuers with a barbecue

Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2007

MIDDLESBORO, Ky. - Tennessean John Rogers helped saved a drowning man a long way from home - in Alaska.

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"We did what we were trained to do," Rogers told the Middlesboro Daily News by telephone. "It was just pure instinct."

Rogers, 22, who grew up in Harrogate just over the Kentucky-Tennessee border, is currently stationed at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks. A senior airman, he works by day as a machine operator.

The off-duty Rogers and his girlfriend, Senior Airman Elicia Greer, 22, were riding dirt bikes with their friend, Air Force Sgt. Bryan Fletcher, 24, at a lake near Fairbanks International Airport on June 16 when they heard someone in trouble.

"Some woman was screaming. I couldn't see what it was at first," Rogers said. "The only thing sticking out was about the size of a softball."

They soon realized it was a drowning man, 35-year-old Joseph Mead, lying face down in the cold water. Fletcher jumped in to help, and Greer and Rogers followed. It took all of them to get Mead to shore.

"He was pale white, had no pulse, wasn't breathing," Rogers remembered.

The three worked together for several minutes to revive him, using cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques they learned before deploying to Iraq in 2006.

Greer performed mouth-to-mouth, Fletcher did chest compressions and Rogers helped both while making sure Mead's head was stable and his airway was clear.

Soon, Mead showed signs of life, was stabilized and emergency responders called by onlookers took over. The three friends went to the hospital and stayed for over two hours, Rogers said, just to make sure the man was going to be OK. He was released from the hospital a day later.

Mead's family honored them at a family barbecue on Sunday.

"I was so thankful to God he put these people at the right place at the right time," Mead's mother Mary Morris said. "I'm just so very, very thankful."

Rogers dismisses all the attention, though.

"Just as long as the guy's alive and healthy - that's all that matters," he said. "I didn't do anything special."

But his mother, Renee Gibbs Russell of Harrogate, said, "Words can't describe how proud I am because the words have not been invented. My son's my hero."

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