Marine honored for saving toddler's life

As her 2-year-old son Rylan turned a bluish purple from choking on a grape, Amber Strother ran to a neighboring apartment for help.

The Pensacola mother wiped tears from her eyes Thursday afternoon as she joined 600 Marines at Pensacola Naval Air Station in honoring the man who saved her son's life.

"I don't want to think about what could have happened if he hadn't known what to do," Strother said after a formal ceremony recognizing U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Tyler Harman for his heroic actions.

Harman, an instructor with the base's Marine Aviation Training Support Group 23, lives next door to Strother and answered the door Feb. 1 when she made a panicked plea for help.

Harman told his wife to call 911 and then turned the toddler over so that he could hit his back and try to dislodge the grape that the boy had grabbed out of the refrigerator on his own.

"He was scared and he was clenching his teeth," Harman said. "He had started to get a little blue and he was starting to choke up blood."

Harman continued his efforts to dislodge the grape and eventually was able to get his fingers inside the child's throat and remove the grape. When paramedics arrived, Rylan was breathing on his own. A quick trip to the emergency room confirmed the child was fine.

Harman didn't tell his fellow Marines about the life-or-death incident, but Rylan's grandfather reached out to leaders of his squadron and told them what happened.

Maj. Javier Garcia, the commanding officer of Aviation Maintenance Squadron 2, presented Harman with the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his heroism.

"People have in their minds that a Marine is going to take a life, to kill the enemy," Garcia told the hundreds of Marines gathered for the ceremony. "Sgt. Harman saved a life. Marines are here to serve, we serve our nation and Sgt. Harman embodies that service."

Harman's wife, Alyssa, their 3-year-old son, Mason, and infant daughter watched the ceremony alongside Strother and Rylan. Mason and Rylan played with rocks and looked on with curiosity at the hundreds of Marines.

Alyssa Harmon said she wasn't surprised to learn that her husband didn't share his harrowing story with his fellow Marines.

"I am so very proud of him," said Alyssa Harmon, who was washing dishes when Strother knocked on the door. "I had no idea what to do, he just told me to call 911 and started helping."

Harman said he learned CPR and other life-saving skills during routine training.

He told his fellow Marines that the incident shows how important even the most mundane training can be.

"I hope for you Marines that you understand that there is a reason for all the training you get while you are here, even something as simple as a three-hour CPR class," he said.

Strother held Rylan, who will turn 3 on Friday, after the ceremony. Rylan showed off his dinosaur T-shirt and played peek-a-boo through the folding chair.

"He is really good now, he isn't even afraid to eat grapes," she said. "Everything was such a blur when it happened and we didn't know what to do. We are just so grateful that (Harman) knew."

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