A Marine who leapt into the ocean to save a drowning Senegalese man has received the Navy's highest non-combat decoration for heroism.

Sgt. Matthew Sprankle was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on Tuesday Jan. 26 by Maj. Gen. Niel Nelson, commander of Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa, at a ceremony aboard Moŕon Air Base, Spain.

The mortarman deployed with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force — Crisis Response — Africa is credited with saving the man's life as he was being swept out to sea Aug. 28 in Dakar, Senegal.

"I don't really do anything for awards, I really don't; it's not something that I've ever been big on," Sprankle said in a Marine Corps press release. "I do stuff for other people, like my Marines; that's what I really care about more than anything."

Sprankle, who also happens to be a Marine Corps water survival instructor, was at dinner with fellow Marines when they heard screams coming from a nearby pier: A swimmer had been caught up in a strong rip current.

Once Sprankle assessed the situation, he reacted without hesitation to dive into the water, swim out to the man and work against the current to safely bring him ashore.

"[The rip current] was just taking him out farther and farther; it was getting dark and the ocean was getting pretty rough, so I was like, 'Well, I guess I'm going to go get him,' so I just jumped off the pier into the ocean," he told Marine Corps Times in September.

Sprankle was in Senegal at the time helping to train that nation's military as part of SP-MAGTF-CR-AF's mission to bolster relations with the U.S.

His actions while on down time took this to the next level.

"Word got to the U.S. ambassador and even the Senegalese military," Sprankle said. "It definitely helped strengthen our relationship with them because I was willing to risk my life to save somebody in a foreign country that I didn't know."

Matthew L. Schehl covers training and education, recruiting, West Coast Marines, MARSOC, and operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East for Marine Corps Times. He can be reached at mschehl@marinecorpstimes.com.

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