By By Master Sgt. John Gordinier
NORAD and U.S. Northern Command Public Affairs
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. David Stergion Jr., North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command NCO-in-charge of Intelligence Plans and Exercises, was presented the Joint Service Achievement Medal by Air Force Maj. Gen. Aaron Prupas, NORAD and USNORTHCOM Director of Intelligence Sept. 28, 2020, for his heroic actions on the night of Feb. 14, 2020.
“The car flipped over on top of snow-covered ice,” Stergion recalled from that cold wintery night. “I instantly thought if I don't get out there fast, the car will break through the ice and sink with the occupants still inside. I knew I had to hurry.”
Stergion, a native of St. Louis, along with his wife, three children and two dogs, decided to take a small vacation and go camping in northern Colorado that fateful Valentine’s Day.
“Starting out, the weather was very nice, around 50 degrees and sunny,” said Stergion. “When we got into the mountains, it started getting very windy with 40 to 50 mile-per-hour gusts and the temperature rapidly dropped.”
Stergion said he approached the top of a hill and noticed a car about 500 meters in front of him that must have lost traction because as the road turned left, the car continued straight off the road. As he approached the vehicle, he noticed it was half way flipped over on the iced-over pond with the driver’s side door down.
“I told my wife to call 911 and I jumped out of my truck to help before the vehicle broke through the icy pond,” Stergion said. “Once I arrived to the vehicle, I noticed it wasn't in danger of sinking because it was on the outer edge of the pond where [the water] was only about an inch or so deep. I looked in the front window to get a better understanding of the situation, see who was in the car and determine how bad their injuries were.”
Stergion noticed an elderly lady in the driver's seat and a 10 or 11-year-old child in the passenger's seat. He noticed the car had a sunroof and asked the lady to open it so he could help get them out of the vehicle. The sun roof would not open. He then asked the child to open the passenger door. The child opened the door and was able to get out.
“Once he got out I told him to go get warm in the vehicle and I will help his grandma,” Stergion recalled. “A few other vehicles were behind my truck so I waved them over to help me, because the wind was blowing so hard that I could not keep the passenger side door open while also trying to help the elderly lady eject the vehicle.”
“Are you hurt? Can you move,” questioned Stergion.
“I’m confused. I don’t know what happened. I was just driving and the wind blew me off the road,” the elderly lady replied.
Stergion and another bystander worked together to unhook the elderly lady’s seat belt as it was stuck momentarily.
“We slowly lifted her out of the vehicle,” Stergion said. “We placed her and her grandson into a bystander’s vehicle to stay warm. I directed her to lay down in the back of the truck and I elevated her legs to treat for shock.”
Stergion verified with his wife that emergency services were en route. They arrived moments later.
“If I wouldn’t have stopped, no one would have because the car was flipped over at a downward angle and it was hard to see the crashed car from the road,” said Stergion. “I thought, I have to help them and there really wasn't a choice in if I should or not. It was more like an obligation.”
Being humble, initially, MSgt Stergion didn’t inform anyone of his actions.
“Master Sgt. Stergion never mentioned (his actions) to me personally until I asked about it,” said Royal Canadian Navy Lieutenant-Commander Dylan Blakeley, NORAD and USNORTHCOM Intelligence Plans and Exercises acting branch chief. “When I asked why he kept it to himself, he simply stated that he had just done what anyone would have done in his situation. I'm not sure that's actually the case.”