SFC Christopher Keith received an award for risking his life to save a civilian.
His heroism happened at Kure Beach, on a typical summer day.
Keith was with his family, and Robert Smith was with his.
Keith and Smith had never met before.
Smith and his cousin became caught in a current while swimming -- and drifted way out. Within minutes, they found themselves fighting for their lives.
"I was scared," Smith said. "I was totally scared."
Keith saw the men in trouble from the beach.
"As I stood there, I thought: 'If that were me, I wouldn't want 20 people standing on the beach watching me drown without somebody trying to help me,'" Keith said.
So Keith dove in, swimming 150 yards against the current.
"He didn't have to do it," Smith said. "He could have said: 'I've got to go and do something else. My family means more.' But he pushed it aside."
Keith saved Smith. But he could not save Smith's cousin, who drowned.
Keith almost drowned, too.
"The main thing I was worried about was my family," Keith said. "They were standing there watching this thing."
Thursday, in front of hundreds on onlookers, Keith received the rare Vanguard Award for Heroism. Only one soldier wins it each year.
Keith also earned the Soldier's Medal, one of the military's top honors.
For Keith and Smith, who are still friends, there was more to celebrate.
"Everybody has an angel, at the perfect time," Smith said.
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