After a child and her father were caught in a rapidly rising river, a young soldier ran to their aid. He didn’t pause, he didn’t think, he just went, and in so doing, two lives were saved.
On Tuesday, that soldier, Pvt. Matthew Cole, will be awarded the Soldier’s Medal in recognition for his actions during a ceremony at Fort Moore, Georgia.
Over Memorial Day weekend, Cole was enjoying some well-earned respite in downtown Columbus, Georgia, near the Chattahoochee Riverwalk, after completing basic training. Cole, at the time a One Station Unit infantry trainee with Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, 198th Infantry Brigade, was on a day pass with his family when he saw a father and his 3-year-old daughter out on a dry patch of ground in the middle of the river — a stretch of earth that’s only accessible when the hydroelectric dam is closed.
However, when the dam releases water, the Chattahoochee can rise rapidly, and that’s what happened that day. As the water was released from the north, an alarm sounded, alerting visitors that they should make their way to the shore.
“The dam alarm started going off while we were walking,” Cole said in an Army news release. However, the father and daughter were not able to make it to safety before the water levels rose and they became trapped and began to be carried off by the current.
When he saw what was happening, Cole waded into the river and made his way to them.
Once the child was safely to shore, her father was able to move back to land.
First responders who arrived on scene credited Cole with saving the family’s life.
“We’re so glad that Pvt. Matthew Cole was there that day,” said Columbus Fire Department Division Chief and Fire Marshall John Shull. “I have every reason to believe that he made a tremendous impact, and there’s a very strong possibility that the 3-year-old and the father would not be there today if it wasn’t for the brave acts of Private Cole.”
The Soldier’s Medal Cole will receive Tuesday is awarded for heroism in a non-combat situation.
There are currently fewer than 300 recipients of the award still serving in the Army, Zachary Harris, a Fort Moore spokesperson, told Army Times.
Pvt. Matthew Cole’s award citation for the Soldier’s Medal can be read in its entirety below:
“On the 26th of May 2023 in Columbus, Georgia, Private Second Class Cole placed himself in harm’s way to save a three-year-old girl from drowning in the Chattahoochee River after the flood gates of the Georgia Power Dam released, sending powerful rapids and rising water through the river. He not only demonstrated heroism and bravery, but he also put his own life at risk by immediately jumping into the river and swimming through the rapids to rescue the young girl and bring her to safety before going back a second time to assist the father dislodge his foot from the rocks as the water rose. Private Second Class Cole’s actions are keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon him, the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, and the United States Army.”
James is the managing editor of Military Times and the editor of Army Times. Prior to Military Times, James worked as the deputy editor of Task & Purpose. He is a former Marine Corps combat correspondent and deployed twice to Afghanistan with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment — first to Marjah in 2010, and then to Kajaki and Sangin in 2011.