Permanent Change of Station leads to much more than a new command - Act of heroism is recognized with an Airman's Medal

  • Published
  • By Major Jennifer Howsare
  • 126th Public Affairs Office
Lt. Col. Doug Edwards, commander, 906th Air Refueling Squadron, had no idea he was on a course with destiny when he and his family began their 2009 trip from Joint Base Lewis-McChord Wash. to a new duty station at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

Nov. 2, 2009, Doug, his wife Joy, and their three children traveled separately in two vehicles on a desolate stretch of Interstate 84 near King Hill, Idaho. In the early morning hours of their travels, both Doug and Joy Edwards noticed smoke rising ahead on the highway. While neither knew the cause of the black plumes, Doug said he knew something was not right.

Edwards recounted the day's events...

"Within seconds, my family and I were the first to arrive on the scene of a single-car accident. My wife and I each pulled our vehicles to the side of the road and Joy placed a call to 911 as she watched me sprint toward the disabled and smoking vehicle. As I reached the vehicle, I realized the car was already on fire and flames were coming from the engine. More disturbing was my realization that an elderly female driver was trapped inside the vehicle. The driver was alone and her legs were pinned under the dashboard. All of the windows had been shattered and both the driver and passenger side doors were jammed shut.

As other passersby arrived, I tried to take command of the scene and began shouting instructions and coordinating rescue efforts. I initially struggled to hold back the fire with small fire extinguishers, but realized they were no match for the rapidly growing flames. I recognized the only chance for a successful rescue was to remove the woman from the burning vehicle so I refocused on her. By now there was a small crowd gathering, but I noticed I was the only one struggling to pull the woman to safety.

Because of my position at the scene, I was unable to reach into the car to unlatch the driver's seatbelt. All of a sudden I noticed a flash of motion and saw a young man lunge through the blown-out passenger side window and unlatch the belt. About that same time, a second man joined forces with me and we were able to use our combined body weight to pry the driver side door almost off its hinges. However, once the door was opened I was alone again fighting to free the trapped woman.

I noticed the driver was regaining consciousness and I shouted at her to wiggle her body to free her legs; it was then she slipped free from the car's grasp and I was able to pull her to safety. By this time the vehicle was completely engulfed in flames, but the driver and I were now at a safe distance, so I began to asses her injuries.

My wife and I believe it was divine intervention that placed us near mile marker 129 on I-84 on that cold November day in 2009. Even though it only took first responders seven minutes to reach the scene after the first 911 call, the car was completely engulfed in flames upon their arrival."

Three years later, the Edwards family is still humbled by the event and modest regarding recognition.

"It was a complex set of circumstances that put us on that road at the right time," said Doug. "Our memories of that morning still amaze us and the experience is very personal. I feel honored to be receiving attention for doing what, at the time, felt very natural and necessary."

Despite his humility, Doug received The Airman's Medal in a small and intimate ceremony conducted May 21 at Scott Air Force Base. Lt. Gen. Mark Ramsay, commander, 18th Air Force, presented the medal to Doug and complimented his courageous and humanitarian actions and recognized his acts of heroism involving voluntary risk of his life.

Joy and the Edwards' children looked on from the audience as their husband and father received the award surrounded by those now under his command and peers from around the base. The award culminated an act of heroism and a new chapter in life for the Edwards family and an elderly woman.