Twentynine Palms -- Standing well above 6 foot tall, with a clean haircut, fresh shave and an air of confidence, Lance Cpl. Troy Yakin is what many would consider a typical Marine. But even the most typical of Marines have a thread of heroism woven within. Whether at home or on the battlefield, answering the call of duty is less of a cognitive thought than it is an instinct.
“Do I think I’m a hero? No,” Yakin said. “I didn’t think twice about it. I didn’t think he was dying, I just thought I was helping somebody out.”
On the morning of June 29, 2016, Yakin, a landing support specialist with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, and two Marines from his unit were visiting Del Mar Beach aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. In the days leading up to that morning, they had been conducting a joint inspection for 11th Marine Regiment. With their tasks completed earlier than expected, Yakin and his co-workers decided to go to the beach.
“When we were at the beach everybody was having a good time,” Yakin said. “People were surfing, body boarding, all that fun stuff. There was a swimmer who had wandered out too far so the life guard went to get him. It was around that time that someone started screaming for help.”
The person in need was Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Ralph Duron, senior enlisted leader, 21 Area Branch Clinic, Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton. Like his fellow beach-goers, Duron was enjoying his time in the ocean. The nearly 9-foot waves crashing above didn’t faze him until he was unexpectedly thrown from his board.
“I was pummeled by a wave and tossed,” Duron said. “In the process, my left shoulder was dislocated and the leash of my surfboard snapped. At the same time, I’d gotten caught in a rip current far from shore. I was in a very bad spot.”
He side stroked for as long as he could with one arm, to little avail. Realizing his eminent danger he began to call for help.
“He flew in out of nowhere and put his life at risk by going into this rip current to swim us both to safety,” Duron said of Yakin. “Throughout his rescue, he reassured me and pulled us both out of the situation.”
By the time they got back to shore Duron was in a great amount of pain and on the verge of blacking out from lack of air. Still, he managed to obtain Yakin’s first name and unit before Yakin slipped back into the ocean.
“From a surfer’s perspective, the waves were nice,” Yakin said. “They were pushing 8 or 9 feet. But it wasn’t like a set would roll in, then the waves would subside. It was set after set, just constant pounding.”
According to Duron, Yakin’s actions that day saved his life.
“All I thought was ‘the ocean’s kicking people’s butts today. I should get out there’,” Yakin said. “I didn’t really think about the riptides and the undertow people warn you about. I didn’t really think about that because I’m a swimmer.”
A good foundation
Yakin was born in Newark, Del., raised by his mom, and surrounded by his cousins. His childhood could be classified as a happy one.
“My mom’s always been one hundred percent behind me in whatever I do. No matter how ridiculous the dream was, she would always support it,” Yakin said. “She always trusted me to have good judgement and she had this rule; ‘if you’re not bleeding or broken, I don’t care.’ Now my mom is like my best friend. I know that as long as she’s around, I have somewhere to go home to.”
At the age of 3, Yakin and his mother moved from Delaware to Galveston, Texas. The city proved to be a change of pace from the easy going environment living by the shore provided him and his family. They would return to Delaware every other summer and visit the ocean, so throughout his life Yakin was never far from water.
“I’ve been swimming since I was 3. I had a pool in my backyard, I was always on a swim team; it was fun,” Yakin said. “All my life I’ve always been told you can do whatever you set your mind to. Swimming became one of those things.”
Over the years, Yakin broadened his horizon and got involved in sports such as track, soccer, baseball, wrestling and football. As he grew older his focus shifted from which sports he would play that season to the direction his future would take.
“I was turning 17 and my parents gave me that one life decision; get a job, continue with school or get out,” Yakin said.
After graduation, Yakin eventually told his mother he wanted to join the military and she, ever supportive, agreed to go with him to the recruiting station.
A good deed
For Yakin, life goes on. He continues to be a contributing member of his unit and acknowledges his actions were due, in part, to him being stationed with ‘First Team.’
“I definitely have to credit the ‘no hesitation’ toward my chain of command,” Yakin said. “Everybody in 1/7 is an aggressor, it’s not like us to blend in. My leadership taught me it’s about getting the mission done.”
On the morning of June 29, Yakin’s mission became to help a man in need. From his perspective he did nothing extraordinary, but in the eyes of his leadership and the man whom he helped, his actions that day far surpassed the call of duty. His presence equated to a life being saved with exponential returns.
“As a seasoned Navy corpsman with multiple deployments, saving lives is my job,” Duron said. “Troy went out of his way to save mine as well as place his in harm’s way without hesitation. I believe his actions reflect honor on himself, his unit, and the Marine Corps as a whole. I am honored to call Marines like Troy ‘brother.’”