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Capt. Justin Griffis is a current operations and training officer with Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, whom assisted in the rescue of a 7-year old Japanese boy who almost drowned at Maeda Flats, Okinawa, Japan, July 23, 2017.

Photo by Sgt. Laura Gauna

Marine aids in rescue of 7-year old Japanese boy, inspired to make a difference

14 Aug 2017 | Lance Cpl. Andy Martinez 1st Marine Aircraft Wing

Cries of a desperate mother and the sight of a child’s limp body on the beach alarmed Capt. Justin Griffis, who up until that point was spending a normal day snorkeling with his family at Maeda Flats in Okinawa, Japan, July 23, 2017. 

Upon hearing the cries, Griffis shoved through the mass of people that had gathered, and was immediately drawn to the lifeless body of a small, 7-year old Japanese boy.

“My first thoughts were ‘They need help, how can I help,’” said Griffis, a current operations and training officer with Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. “There was a moment where I thought ‘Oh my God, what do I do.’ but that thought went away the moment it arrived. That’s when my training kicked in.”

Griffis, like most Marines took a CPR class and knew what had to be done. However, after his initial shock wore off, Griffis noticed a woman already administering CPR to the boy. 

Rachel Gruber, an emergency room nurse with U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa in Camp Foster, was already administering chest compressions in accordance with CPR procedures. 

Without hesitation, Griffis began to give mouth-to-mouth to the boy.

“Every time I gave emergency breathing, I was getting water, vomit and blood back,” said Griffis, a native of Arvada, Colorado. “It’s not pretty, it’s scary, it’s disgusting, and it’s horrifying. For a minute I couldn’t help to think, what if this was my daughter here. What if my daughter was in his position and needed help.” 

The boy desperately needed to get to a hospital, so when Rachel and Griffis noticed a man holding a boogie board they sprang into action. No sooner had they spotted the man then Griffis’ wife, Jen, raced towards him.

Using the board as a makeshift stretcher, they transported the boy swiftly and carefully away from the beach, eventually reaching the emergency responders who’d arrived on scene. 

With no response from the boy, the team struggled to dry his wet body in order to attach the automated external defibrillator and send an electric shock to his heart. 

After several attempts with the AED, they loaded him onto the ambulance, where emergency medical technicians raced to the nearest hospital, leaving Griffis and the others in stunned silence.

Adrenalin gone, Griffis snapped back to reality when he caught sight of his family.

“My wife and two kids were trucking up the hill with all of the stuff we brought to the beach,” Griffis said. “It got real to me at that point; this could have easily been one of them if I kept my eyes off of them. My daughter is little; her and [the boy] are about the same size. For a minute there I thought ‘that wasn’t [he] that was her.’” 

After EMT picked up the boy, he was immediately taken to a hospital nearby. He was recently transferred to a hospital in mainland Japan, where his family resides. 

The harrowing incident drove Griffis to take action and inspired him. Griffis got with Red Cross and his unit’s Family Readiness Officer to develop a CPR class for not only service members but their spouses as well.

“You never know when you’re going to be the one who needs help,” said Griffis. “Sometimes, you need to lend a helping hand to someone else — so have the knowledge, have the skill set. Going through the training myself prepared me to act, but I still need a refresh to know the latest and greatest.”