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Camp Pendleton Marine recognized for rescuing couple from overturned kayak

U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Dan Conley, right, the commanding general of Marine Corps Installations West, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, speaks to U.S. Marine Cpl. Jordan Perez. Perez was awarded a challenge coin for saving a couple after their kayak flipped over in the Camp Pendleton 21 Area Boat Basin.

ALISON DOSTIE/U.S. MARINE CORPS BASE

By ERIKA I. RITCHIE | The Orange County Register | Published: March 10, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — Marine Cpl. Jordan Perez was recently recognized for swimming out in choppy water to rescue a couple whose kayak tipped over in the Del Mar Basin, a marina leading to the ocean at Camp Pendleton.

But for the 20-year-old from Antioch, the effort was just something that "Marines are expected to do."

"I'd want someone to do the same thing for my parents," Perez said this week. "It's something a good person would do. That's what my mom always taught me was to be a good person. I didn't expect all this attention."

The adulation is not only coming from other Marines and sailors — with whom he was working at the time — but it also caught the attention of Brig. Gen. Dan Conley, the commanding general of Marine Corps Installations West and Camp Pendleton.

On Feb. 15, Perez, a combat engineer with the 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, was working on a construction project at the Del Mar Basin. The weather was cold and windy, creating waves in the water. Another Marine in his crew first saw the couple in the kayak flip over and alerted Perez and others.

Perez and another Marine ran to nearby rocks to get a better view. The couple yelling for help were out about 250 meters in an area where the marina feeds toward the ocean.

Another Marine jumped in the water with Perez but fell back as they got further from shore. When Perez got to the kayak, the two people were swimming beneath the craft.

"They were actually drowning themselves," he said.

Perez flipped over the kayak and pulled the woman, weighted down with a soggy jean jacket, aboard. The husband told Perez he could swim, but as Perez began pushing the woman ahead, he could hear the man struggling.

Perez grabbed a vest from the kayak and swam back, putting it around the man. Then, he pulled him along with his right arm while pushing the woman in the kayak with his left arm.

The choppy waves and current were working against the rescue effort. So, Perez, an avid spear and lobster fisherman, said he let the currents take him until he found a spot where he didn't have to fight the water. From there, he moved the couple toward shore.

"The lady was bear-hugging the kayak and the guy was doing his best to swim," Perez said.

When they arrived near the shore, the sailors with whom he had been working helped Perez bring them ashore.

Perez credits his Marine Corps training and some adrenaline for helping him.

He's also in the process of trying to qualify to become a Marine Raider, a title that would make him part of a special operations force, so he's been working to get into better physical shape. Before his shift starts, he said he goes to the gym, then swims for two hours during his lunch break and runs three miles most days after work.

In March, he'll head to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to go through qualifications. If he makes it through and is selected for the Raider unit, he'll train for another nine months to a year.

After the rescue, Camp Pendleton's general came out to the job site to praise Perez for his actions and give him a personal challenge coin as special recognition. Most junior Marines rarely meet a general in person let alone receive the infrequently given challenge coins.

"When I heard that, that's when it hit me," Perez said about the growing attention. "I never had a man-to-man talk with a one-star general before. He made me feel like a brother."

Conley called Perez's effort "gutsy."

"I'd like to believe a lot of people would do what you did, but I know they wouldn't," the general said in presenting the coin. "So, to hear it actually happen is just amazing."

Perez still doesn't know much about the couple or if they had been guests at the nearby Del Mar Beach Resort, which is open to veterans and their families.

"The lady gave me a big, wet hug and told me her son was in the Coast Guard," Perez said of their brief exchange. "She said she would tell him a Marine saved her and not a Coastie."

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U.S. Marine Cpl. Jordan Perez, a combat engineer with 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, poses for a photo at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Feb. 19, 2021. Perez was awarded a challenge coin for saving a couple after their kayak flipped over in the 21 Area Boat Basin.
ALISON DOSTIE/U.S. MARINE CORPS