Note: This story has been corrected.
After two tours of combat duty in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, the morning commute on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system from Orinda, Calif., to San Francisco must have seemed pretty routine to Maj. Adam Czekanski one day last winter.
He got to the station just in time and could hear a train coming into the station. But then he saw something else. A man standing at the edge of the platform began slowly leaning forward and then toppled onto the tracks, directly in front of the oncoming train.
The commuters on the platform froze in horror, "as if they were paralyzed," Czekanski said later. But he knew exactly what to do. He ran from the top of the escalator to the edge of the platform and jumped onto the tracks to help the fallen man.
"He was lying there flat on his back," Czekanski said. "I pulled him away from the tracks and got him under the lip of the platform. I know it sounds like a cliche," he said, "But I did what I had to do."
It was much more than he had to do. On Thursday, Czekanski, a major in the Army Corps of Engineers, received the Soldier's Medal, the Army's highest award for valor in a noncombat setting.
The incident occurred just after 7 a.m. Jan. 24. The victim, later identified as Adrian Malagon, had what BART police later thought was a seizure.
Malagon himself could not say what it was. He told BART police he remembered nothing from the time he blacked out until he regained consciousness in an ambulance on the way to John Muir Hospital in Martinez.
But Czekanski remembers it clearly. His Army training, he said, "helps us to make quick decisions."
He saw Malagon on the tracks, saw the train approaching and jumped in.
"The guy had a gash on his head and was bleeding," Czekanski said. He was not responsive. "He opened his eyes, but he did not say anything. I told him not to move, and hollered for others to call 911," Czekanski said.
In the meantime, Monique Marshall, who was operating the BART train, had noticed what she thought was a black jacket fall onto the tracks, just as the train was slowing for the station. She slammed on the emergency brake, and the train stopped.
Czekanski, however, was already on the track and the train was bearing down on him and the injured man. "I hope that someone would do the same for me," he said.
Wesley Riggins, another BART patron, rushed to help Czekanski with the injured man. The Orinda Fire Department and an ambulance responded.
The medal was presented by Brig. Gen. Mark Toy at a ceremony at the Army Corps of Engineers San Francisco Area headquarters on Market Street.
Toy is the commanding officer of the Corps' San Francisco area. Czekanski, 37, is the deputy commander. He has been a soldier for 16 years.
This is not Czekanski's first award for valor. He received the Bronze Star three times and the Purple Heart once for service in the Middle East. He served as a company commander, battalion executive officer and battalion operations officer in his combat tours. He also earned the Combat Action Badge.
The Soldier's Medal is rarely given, only a few times a year for the whole Army, according to J.D. Hardesty, public affairs officer for the Corps of Engineers San Francisco District.
Czekanski never heard again from Malagon, the injured man. The Chronicle was unable to contact Malagon.
©2014 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.