Campus Life

Former Student Dedicates Navy Marine Corps Medal To Scuba Diving Instructors

Aaron Cranford credits his Texas A&M diving instructors for providing the knowledge he needed to save four lives in Okinawa, Japan.
By Heather Gillin, Texas A&M University College of Education and Human Development November 8, 2019

Aaron Cranford ’13 credits his Texas A&M scuba diving instructors with teaching him everything he knows about scuba diving. On April 23, 2017, this diving knowledge would help him save four people’s lives in Okinawa, Japan.

Cranford took a scuba diving course with the Physical Education Activity Program in the Department of Health and Kinesiology with instructors Jim Woosley, instructional professor, and Jason Demshar. He took the course his senior year in preparation for joining the Marine Corps and completed his Dive Master certification in a little over one semester, making him one of the fastest students to finish.

After graduating with a degree in Recreation, Parks and Tourism Sciences in 2013, he completed basic training in Quantico, Virginia and further training in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

At his first active duty station in Japan he witnessed three divers in distress caught within the surf zone at Onna Point on the western shore of Okinawa while on an expedition with three other Marine Officers.

After ensuring his dive group was safe, he returned to the surf zone three times at risk to his own life to rescue the divers one-by-one. Despite verbal warnings, an onlooker at the beach entered the water and was subsequently caught in the rip current.

Cranford entered the surf zone for a final time to rescue this onlooker. He placed the man on top of himself to keep him buoyant and away from the coral reef, which Cranford sustained cuts and abrasions from while saving the man’s life.

For this heroic act, Cranford was presented with the Navy and Marine Corps medal from the President of the United States. He dedicated this medal to Woosley and Demshar, writing “my reaction in this situation in which I was awarded was because of your passion and joy for teaching me and letting me learn.”

Woosley, a master instructor in the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, has been teaching scuba diving since 1982. He said Cranford was a student that always went above and beyond in class, so he was not surprised to hear that Cranford received the medal.

“He always stood out, but mostly for caring about other people,” Woosley said. “If anybody would earn something like this, it would be him.”

Cranford said Woosley and Demshar were the first people who came to mind after the event because of their instruction.

“They had trained me so well and really reinforced good habits, so as soon as the actual incident happened I honestly did not really feel all that in danger,” Cranford said. “It was not until afterwards when the adrenaline came off that I could reflect on what I did.”

Cranford hopes to earn his instructors license to teach scuba diving. He is currently living in Australia working for a nonprofit ministry organization.

The medal is currently hanging in the Physical Education Activity Program building on west campus.

This article by Heather Gillin originally appeared on the College of Education and Human Development website.

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