By Danielle DeSimone
As the oldest military branch in the Armed Forces with its roots stretching back to the Continental Army of the American Revolutionary War, the U.S. Army has a long and storied history of valor and commitment to serving the American people and our allies. Here are six stories of courage that have come from Army soldiers – both on and off the battlefield.
1. Army Sergeant Saves Fellow Soldier from Car Crash
Army Sgt. Mary Ehiarinmwian’s moment of bravery shows that Army soldiers are ready to step up to the challenge and save a life at any moment, even when they are off duty. While driving to physical training (PT) on base in 2020, the driver of the car in front of Ehiarinmwian – who was, unbeknownst to her, a soldier from her unit – suddenly lost control of their vehicle. The car collided with a road sign, was flipped through the air and then landed upside down, crashing through a security gate. Ehiarinmwian immediately jumped into action.
Ehiarinmwian rushed to the driver’s side and assessed their injuries before carefully pulling them from the car, which had already begun to smoke.
“I felt like the car was going to burst into flames,” she said. “But at the time, I didn’t think of the danger.”
Instead, she thought only of ensuring that the driver was safe, and once the paramedics arrived and she was sure that her fellow solider was in good hands, Ehiarinmwian went about her day, business as usual, and arrived for PT with her unit. Ehiarinmwian explained that helping others is simply a part of the job description of a solider, and it’s an instinct that comes naturally – regardless of whether or not she’s on the clock.
“I was in shock and shaky, but I knew someone was in worse shape than I was,” she said. “There were no steps or thought behind it, [I] just got out of the car and helped.”
Ehiarinmwian was recognized as the USO Soldier of the Year 2020 for her bravery.
2. World War II Veteran and POW Dan Crowley is Finally Recognized for His Bravery
It’s been over 80 years since Sgt. Dan Crowley first enlisted in the Army at the young age of 18, but the World War II veteran and prisoner of war (POW) was finally recognized for his service and sacrifice in January 2021.
Crowley was stationed at Nichols Field in the Philippines before the United States had even entered WWII. However, the day after the U.S. declared war on Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attacked the Philippines and the U.S. Army bases there – including Nichols Field.
Even though Crowley – who was assigned to an aircraft unit – was not trained in combat, he immediately leapt into action. He and his fellow soldiers improvised, using antiquated British machine guns that they had on-hand, creating a powerful air defense attempt.
Crowley and the other soldiers who survived the devastating air raid crossed Manila Bay to the Bataan Peninsula in the dark of night to avoid Japanese detection, where they joined other U.S. troops and continued the fight. As Japanese forces closed in, Crowley and his fellow soldiers swam through shark-infested waters to avoid capture, but eventually they were found by the enemy and became prisoners of war.
For approximately three and a half years, Crowley endured terrible conditions and forced labor in Japanese imprisonment. He was eventually released after Japan’s surrender in 1944 and was honorably discharged from the Army in April 1946. Although the Army promoted him to sergeant in October 1945, Crowley was never notified of the promotion.
That all changed in January 2021, when Crowley was officially promoted to the rank of sergeant and presented with the Prisoner of War Medal and an Army Combat Infantryman Badge. Crowley was finally recognized for all of his sacrifice at the age of 99, before passing away just a few months later at his home in Simsbury, Connecticut.
“Courage means to me that when the time came, that you were called upon to do the right thing, you did it,” Crowley said.
3. Army Ranger Medics Save Lives of Fellow Soldiers While Under Fire with Blood Donations
On a hot summer night in Wardak province, Afghanistan, in 2019 a special operations U.S. Army Ranger raid force began an assault on a compound with enemy targets.
As enemy fighters fired back at U.S. forces and the Rangers began to close in on a target, there was a huge explosion, injuring three Rangers. Amidst rounds of machine gun fire, rockets and grenades, two Ranger combat medics, Army Staff Sgt. Charles Bowen and Army Sgt. Ty Able, leapt into action to save six American lives that night.
Pulling the critically wounded behind cover from enemy fire, Bowen and Able quickly began performing advanced surgical techniques and providing Rangers with blood infusions with supplies they had on hand.
While the medics stabilized some of the injured, unfortunately, two of the injured Rangers were losing blood, and fast. Unfortunately, Bowen and Able had already utilized all of their blood units for other injured service members. Knowing that this was a life-or-death matter, the two medics decided to attempt the Ranger O-Low (ROLO) Titre protocol, in which a volunteer transfers his or her blood to the injured Ranger on the battlefield, with the assistance and equipment from the medics. The procedure at the time was relatively new and had never been done in the middle of combat, but Bowen, Able and a volunteer blood donor were able to pull it off.
As enemy fire continued to rage overhead, the three worked quickly to transfer large quantities of blood from their volunteer to two injured Rangers, effectively saving their lives. Throughout the procedure and other life-saving techniques, the two medics also continually shielded their patients with their own bodies to prevent further injuries from enemy fire.
As the wounded were loaded onto a helicopter for evacuation, Able kept up a steady attack against the enemy, to provide them with cover.
Bowen and Able treated a fatal hemorrhage, triaged two additional casualties and tended to several other injuries that night. Their calm demeanors under pressure, as they worked to save the lives of their fellow soldiers while under fire, demonstrates incredible dedication and valor.
4. Army National Guard Members Step Up to Support Communities During COVID-19
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States in 2020, many Americans were keeping their distance and avoiding a great deal of human contact to avoid contracting or spreading the deadly virus.
The Army National Guard, however, was right there on the front lines.
From COVID-19 testing sites to food banks, to COVID-19 spread mapping and working as support medical staff in hospitals, members of the National Guard stepped up to provide crucial services and support to their local communities. Doing so often required them to leave their families behind without knowing when they’d see them again, especially as they were working right on the front lines of the disease.
“We were interacting directly with individuals that could have the virus,” said Army Spc. Dameon Spurgeon, a member of the Washington Army National Guard.
However, despite the long hours, risk of contracting the virus, time spent apart from loved ones and all the challenges in between, the National Guard was steadfast in its commitment to serve their local communities across the country during one of the most challenging years in recent history.
“I love the state, like helping people, and what is a better way than working for the National Guard to do that?” said Army Sgt. Nikko Ethridge, a cavalry scout with the Washington Army National Guard.
5. Members of the California National Guard Evacuate and Rescue Hundreds Trapped by Wildfires
In September 2020, the fifth (then fourth) largest wildfire and the largest single source wildfire in California history blazed to life and burned until the end of December, fourth months later. The Creek Fire, as it was called, destroyed hundreds of homes and required the evacuation of hundreds more residents.
Luckily, thanks to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the California National Guard, there was not a single casualty. This is especially impressive given the scale of the fire and the conditions in which National Guard members worked under on one particular night in September 2020 to save residents trapped by the fire.
“I received a text about a rescue mission asking if I wanted to go and I replied yes,” Army Sgt. George Esquivel said. “I don’t turn down the opportunity to go on rescue missions because it’s what we do.”
National Guard members quickly volunteered to fly in on a Chinook helicopter and a Black Hawk helicopter. Although both crews and the firefighters on the ground were experienced with wildfires, the Creek Fire that night was especially challenging due to limited visibility, extreme heat and the need for night vision goggles – all during an aerial evacuation of hundreds of residents. One of the soldiers described the scene as “apocalyptic.”
As the flames raged around them and the winds shifted, resulting in unpredictable flight routes, the crews began evacuating groups of residents, 65 or over 100 people at a time. This was quite a feat, as the Black Hawk helicopter they were flying is designed to only carry approximately 30 people.
The flight crews tended to the injured and families on board while also coordinating perfectly with one another and alternating landings as quickly as possible to get as many residents out as possible. In the end, the National Guard members rescued 242 people in one night.
“We appreciate the praise that we’re getting, but we’re not a godsend or special people, we’re just ordinary people that did our job,” said Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Irvin Hernandez. “This is what we do and we love it.”
6. A Soldier Takes Charge During the Fall of Kabul
Whether you join with a passion to serve your country, a determination to learn new skills and bettering yourself, or even a desire to travel the world, everyday people join the Army for all sorts of reasons. However, according to a Task & Purpose interview, U.S. Army Sgt. Breanna Jessop’s inspiration for joining the Army was simply that she did not want to reach the end of her life and realize she hadn’t made an impact.
But make an impact she did.
When the 82nd Airborne Division was called to support noncombatant evacuation operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the fall of 2021, Jessop, a member of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, assumed the role of noncommissioned officer in charge of the Karzai Airport Chapel. Always putting the well-being of soldiers first, Jessop used her ingenuity to ensure 4,000 U.S. military personnel and coalition forces had access to basic hygiene items when resources were limited or nonexistent.
Notably, at the height of the mission, Jessop also provided phenomenal leadership to oversee the operations of a makeshift orphanage, which had been recently formed due to the increased number of unaccompanied minors following the events in Afghanistan. She led the mission to assist in caring for all children in the orphanage, who ranged from ages seven days old to 17 years old.
She ensured the protection of over 400 displaced children who were safeguarded throughout evacuation operations and enemy attacks. However, she not only protected the well-being of these children but also protected their dignity as human beings. Jessop displayed devotion and selfless leadership under duress during the high-pressure and dangerous fall of Kabul in 2021, carrying out military operations as well as humanitarian efforts. Her work left an indelible mark on the evacuation mission of American citizens and designated Afghans, going above and beyond the mission at-hand, and as a result, she was recognized as the USO’s 2021 Soldier of the Year.
When asked about her efforts in Kabul, Jessop simply said: “I was just taking care of people.”
-This story was originally published on USO.org in 2021. It has been updated in 2022.
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