Like many at Fort Riley, Capt.
Derek Curtis, the post’s Dental Activity company commander, took his family to
Milford Lake while on leave. That became a day his family would never forget.
While at the lake, he
witnessed a group of male teenagers trying to convince two teenage girls to
swim out to the deeper parts of the lake. One of the girls was fine with it, but
the other, Mikaela Nesbitt, seemed a little scared to Curtis.
Nesbitt, who was nearby, turned
to Curtis and told him, “I’m a baby when it comes to these things.”
Curtis told her not to go
if she wasn’t comfortable, but she chose to go to the deep part of the lake
with her friends, he said. He later noticed Nesbitt, unconscious and gray,
being pressed against a buoy by the other teenagers.
“They told me that they were
not able, strong swimmers and to get her back to shore,” Curtis said in a
statement to the police.
Curtis then swam the young girl
all the way back to shore.
Despite his swimming
ability, Curtis almost drowned. The 50-meter swim to shore required
intermittent stops for rest while treading water and struggling to keep himself
and the victim afloat. When on shore, Curtis utilized his Army medical
training, placed the victim in the fetal position and monitored her vital signs
until she started coughing.
Curtis was awarded the
Soldier’s Medal June 24 at Fort Riley for his heroism in saving Nesbitt after
she almost drowned. The Soldier’s Medal is the highest peacetime award given to
Soldiers for heroism. “It’s amazing,” said Jenn, Curtis’ wife, at the award
ceremony. “I didn’t realize, because I am not a Soldier, just how big of a deal
it was to be awarded this medal.”
After the incident, Geary County
Sheriff Tony Wolf released a statement reading that Curtis’ actions avoided
tragedy and requested he be awarded the Army Soldier’s Medal.
When asked how it felt to be
recognized for his actions, Curtis said it was beyond anything he could
“I think it’s cool my dad got the Soldier’s Medal,”
said Jonathan Curtis, Curtis’ 12-year-old son.