As Jiang Ping jumped into the floodwaters to repair a broken dike last week, other soldiers from the People's Liberation Army followed his example.
A platoon leader, Jiang had been fighting the floods with his unit in Anhui province, which had been hit with severe flooding since early July.
From neighboring Jiangsu province, more than 1,000 troops had rushed to Tongling, a city situated along the Yangzte River, on July 11 in response to an urgent call for help.
After 12 days, the floodwaters there had been brought under control, but the work of the troops was not done. They were ordered to Hefei, the provincial capital, as Chaohu Lake was at risk of overflowing.
"Many houses and fields were submerged in both Tongling and Hefei," Jiang said. "The desperate situation is carved into my mind."
Born in 1992, Jiang experienced a wild moment in 1998, when a flood hit his hometown in rural Zongyang county, Anhui. The violent floods were among the worst on record in southern China.
One summer day, floodwaters suddenly rose in Jiang's village, which lay beside Pogang Lake, not far from the main channel of the Yangzte River.
"Most of my house, which was made of brick and tile, was on a single floor. It was quickly submerged but the water kept rising. My father lifted me and my elder brother to the roof," Jiang recalled.
"We were on the roof for nearly three hours and desperate, in fear of our lives," he said during a break from flood relief work on Thursday on the broken dike at the junction of the Baishitian River and Chaohu Lake, the country's fifth-largest freshwater lake.
He remembered his fear as he huddled with his family on the roof. And he remembered the surge of hope as a team of soldiers frantically rowed a rubber boat to the family carrying ropes and steel cables to rescue them. "An officer took me into his arms and tried to ease my panic. He said, 'Don't be afraid. We are here with you.'"
Jiang never forgot those words.
As the boat was nearly full, the young brothers were taken first. Their parents waited on the roof. He saw them in the distance as the soldiers rowed the boat away, wondering what would become of them in the storm.
Jiang said the rescue was the first time he had met a real soldier. "Since then, I always think of soldiers as tall and big," he said.
Jiang's family members were all safe, but when the floodwaters receded their house collapsed. It was another calamity for a family that had had more than its share. When a previous flood struck the area in 1954, some of the local villagers, including Jiang's maternal grandparents, fled to other areas and never returned.
But Jiang was inspired by the bravery of the soldiers he had witnessed in action.
Inspired to join
In his village, a student who could pass the national college entrance examination was a rarity. Most of the young men sought jobs in cities, but Jiang joined the PLA after his graduation from high school in 2010.
"As a new recruit, I found the training very tiring. But every time I wanted to quit, I found strength in my childhood memory of the soldiers," he said.
After finishing his compulsory term of service in 2012, Jiang stayed in the army. His commanders recognized his good performance.
As an adult, he had wanted to find his savior from those many years ago, though that seemed impossible. "At an exhibition of my unit's history, I found it was this very unit that had rescued my family in 1998," he said as he described how the tears had come.
Despite the sentimental connection, Jiang is aware that the same unit must answer the call again 22 years later.
Now, working on the dike in Hefei, he wears a red armband, showing he is part of a commando team of members of the Communist Party of China.
"The 20-member team was organized during the flood relief work, and its members are expected to take the lead on the most difficult and dangerous tasks," he said.
Talking with a reporter on Thursday atop the dike, Jiang seemed shy. He struggled for words. When a tractor with bags of earth arrived on a muddy road below the dike, Jiang rose briskly and walked down to meet it.
His platoon stood in a line to relay the bags by hand to an area of the river that had been reinforced by timbers.
Water had been found leaking from the dike and they had to stop it urgently.
The water by the timbers was still deep. Once the bottom was filled, making the water waist-deep, a group of soldiers jumped in to consolidate the bags. Jiang led the way.
His association with floods and the consequences seems inevitable.
As he rushed to Tongling on July 11, he wept when he saw the flooded houses. He knew all too well the fear and hardship that accompanied the water's wrath.
Those memories have been an inspiration.
After the flood of 1998, Jiang's family moved to Chizhou, another city on the Yangzte. There they joined his grandparents.
Floodwaters seem to have a cruel memory. In a repeat of history, the recent storms have flooded their current home.