25 Year Old Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis Kirckof of Toms River was awarded the Navy and Marine Corp Medal this past Friday – this for having braved shark infested waters and saving 2 of his fellow shipmates after the ship he was onboard had run aground against a reef.

The ship, the USS Guardian – a 224-foot Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship, had run aground January 13th 2013 on Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea, about 70 nautical miles south east of Palawan in the Philippines.

Buffeted by waves on its port side, the Guardian was taking on water at a fast pace and being continually pushed against a reef – made the ship completely inoperable.

That’s when Kirkof – knowing something was amiss, went into action.

According to this from app.com:

“I grew up in Toms River, New Jersey,” Kirckof told a public affairs writer. “I was always around water. When I was 20, I joined the Navy in hopes of becoming a diver, but I became a mineman instead. When I reported to the Guardian, they needed a (search and rescue) swimmer, and I volunteered.”
“I grabbed hold of the first sailor that jumped in and started moving him toward the reef, but the waves separated us. I swam as hard as I could, grabbed him and got him to safety,” Kirckof said.

This was no easy task as they’d already been trying to save the ship for more than 36 hours without sleep in the tropical heat – and the lifeboats which would have been their only refuge, were up against the reef.

Altogether Kirkof spent about 5 hours in the water insuring that 46 of his shipmates made it to safety and being credited with saving the lives of 2 of them.

The Director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, Adm. John Richardson, presented Kirckof the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on April 11, 2014 at Joint Base Charleston Weapons Station. When speaking about Kirkof, Richardson had this to say:

"We're here today to recognize a real Navy hero," Richardson said during the ceremony. "A typical rescue is over in a matter of minutes. Petty Officer Kirckof was in the water for more than four hours, sacrificing his personal safety. Only after his last shipmate had been helped to safety, and he had used up everything in his body, did he stop. He had given it his all."

"This was probably the most humbling experience I have ever had in my life," Kirckof said. "I've made a few wrong turns in my life, and I occasionally wondered if the Navy was another wrong turn, but after this experience, I knew that joining the Navy was the right decision for me.

And 46 others, including the two whose lives were saved are grateful for that right decision.

For that, we commend him for his bravery and service.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis Kirckof of Toms River – today’s Ray’s Ray of Hope.