Austin Kirwin joined the Galveston Island Beach Patrol Junior Lifeguard Day Camp in 2000. After six years in the Junior Guard Program, he tried out to be a lifeguard.

I remember overseeing the run-swim-run that’s part of tryouts back in 2006. He came in second place out of 35, right behind Kimberly Hermann, who was a freakishly fast swimmer.

In rookie school, I had this spiral notebook to keep track of all the lifeguard candidates. I never showed it to anyone while I was learning their names. I had little notes written to remind me who was who — things like “hair,” or “John’s kid,” “chatty” or “skinny fast dude.”

Austin’s code name was “Attaboy” because he was always ready, always putting in 100 percent and totally bought in to being the best lifeguard he could possibly be.

That attitude got him a promotion to senior guard in 2006, another to supervisor in 2009 and a spot with our year-round staff in 2011. He elected to go to Galveston College Law Enforcement Academy and graduated top of his class in 2012. We promoted him to sergeant in 2018 and again to lieutenant in 2020.

In 2013, he made the decision to enlist in the Texas Air National Guard and was deployed twice as a “Joint Terminal Attack Controller,” which means he’s the Air Force guy who’s attached to the Army and is the subject-matter expert for all things that “go boom” in the air and on the ground.

He was deployed to East Africa and again to the Middle East. He got married before leaving and just got back to witness the birth of his son, Leonidas.

Austin competed in the national lifesaving championships four times. Once in Virginia Beach, I was trying to give him some unsolicited advice about the current and, ever confident, he informed me that, “Chief, this is not my first rodeo.” Then, he promptly missed the flag when the current swept him down the beach. Rare moment, but hilarious.

Most people would think military service and lifesaving are two totally different things, but there are quite a few commonalities. Austin likes lifesaving because he likes helping people, the natural environment and, as a local guy, giving back to his community.

The military drew him for similar reasons, including an opportunity to increase his skill set and to understand more about other places, cultures and different ways of life. He spoke about a family he met recently who had to walk 3 miles a day just to get water and how much of an impression that made on him.

He has a genuine sense of duty to our country, and the added benefit is it gives him an increased skill set for beach patrol; both provide an avenue to do good and get his adrenaline fix.

Austin says, “It’s hard to complain about driving a Jet Ski to save someone in a hurricane in one job and blowing stuff up and traveling the world in another.”

We’re glad he’s back safe.

Peter Davis is chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. The views in this column are Davis’ and do not necessarily represent those of the Beach Patrol, Galveston Park Board of Trustees or any other entity.

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