AWC student saves child's life

by Capt. Teresa Sullivan
Air War College

8/24/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala., -- What began as an evening of studying Clausewitz for one Air War College student, ended in saving a 4-year-old child from a near-drowning incident.

Alva Pace, AWC student, was winding down his day Aug. 7 at his off-base apartment reading for class when he took a study break and went on a walk outside. That's when he noticed a commotion near the swimming pool clubhouse.

"I heard a woman say, 'She's not breathing!,' and saw a man giving what looked like chest compressions to someone on the side of the pool," said Pace, who spent several years as a Red Cross water safety and life-saving instructor. "Then someone asked, 'Who knows CPR?' and I ran up to find a little 4-year old girl. She was gray, ashy ... had the rigid appearance of already being gone. She was unconscious, unresponsive. Everyone was in shock. They didn't know what to do - so I knew something had to be done."

Pace immediately went to work, taking charge of the situation. He had no idea how long she'd been unconscious and knew he had no time to waste.

"It all happened in a matter of two minutes. I don't remember thinking, just executing," said Pace, who also is a retired Army helicopter pilot and combat veteran.

In his years as a water safety instructor he'd pulled several struggling swimmers out of the water. He had never dealt with anything of this magnitude - everyone on the scene was looking to him for leadership, depending on him to save this child.

"I noticed her airway was blocked so I put my hand under her neck and had to pry open her mouth. I gave her one breath, assessed, gave her another breath, assessed and I saw movement in her chest. Then I just started talking to her, telling her she'd be all right," he explained. "Then one eye opened, and then the other, and I saw the color come back to her face."

Although she'd gained consciousness, he knew the child needed medical attention right away. Pace handed the girl to her father as they waited for the first responders to arrive. The child was transported to a local hospital where, after a day of evaluations, she was released with a clean bill of health. Pace credits being in the right place at the right time for saving the child's life that evening.

"Looking back, many kids wouldn't have survived that situation. I just happened to take a break from reading and just happened to make my way to the scene and was able to help. You have to give credit to a higher power ... whatever you believe, because there was one coincidence after another that night. There had to have been a little intervention," said the father of two boys, ages 6 and 8. A few days later Pace got in touch with the family of the child to see how she was doing and give her a gift.

"I have to say, seeing her running around like a vibrant, healthy child was one of the most gratifying experiences in my life," he said. "I'm still synthesizing the whole situation. It makes you think about what's important in life."

Maj. Gen. Scott Hanson, commandant of the Air War College, echoed his sentiments.

"We are all extremely proud of Mr. Pace's heroic actions, and are very thankful this little girl and her family are doing well," said the general. "This was a solemn reminder for all of us about how quickly things can go wrong in any situation. However, it also demonstrates how a single individual's quick, decisive action can literally save the day, and a precious life." Hanson recognized Pace in front of the AWC student body for his heroic actions.