A leisurely motorcycle ride through Mount Rainier National Park forever changed the lives of Sgt. 1st Class Anton Engelmann and Staff Sgt. Marc Emmi.
A sports utility vehicle was overturned in the raging Nisqually River, and a man was trapped inside. Instincts kicked into high gear for the two Special Forces Soldiers, and without regard to their own safety, jumped into the water and pulled the man to the shoreline.
Park rangers called in emergency medical support and the rescued man survived.
The day became more fateful for the two neighbors as a news crew covering another story passed by the accident scene while the rescue took place and caught it on camera.
Less than a week later, the two 1st Special Forces Group Soldiers based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord were on the national news telling the country about the event and showcasing their bravery.
The Pentagon noticed too, and last week, the two noncommissioned officers, or NCOs, were awarded the Soldier's Medal, the highest noncombat-related medal attainable by a service member, Sept. 28 at French Theater on Lewis Main.
The Soldiers' Medal was established by Congress in 1926. The medal is awarded to any U.S. service member or of a friendly foreign nation who, while serving in any capacity with the Army, distinguishes himself or herself by heroism. The performance must involve personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy.
Because the Soldier's Medal equates to the same level of military customs and courtesies as a Silver Star, Deputy Commanding General of U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) Brig. Gen. Steven Duff came to JBLM to present the medal to the two Soldiers.
He spoke about the remarkable courage exemplified by the two scuba-qualified NCOs June 5, 2010, who braved rushing chest-deep water to pull the man out of the overturned vehicle.
"In combat, you fight for the guy to your left and right," Duff said. "It's something totally different when out on a leisurely drive and you see somebody in need and you realize that this person can die if I don't do something and without thought for your own safety. You go into action. That's what you do as Special Forces Soldier."
Both Engelmann and Emmi said they don't feel their actions last year were heroic.
"If somebody's in trouble, you help them," Engelmann said. "We certainly are not heroes."
Article by Lorin Smith, I Corps