Staff Sgt. Tyronne Mitchell was running an errand when he came upon a single-car wreck in Spring Lake last year.
The Fort Bragg soldier with the 4th Military Information Support Group said he acted without thinking, pulling a woman from the overturned vehicle and administering first aid until paramedics arrived.
On Wednesday, Mitchell was honored at Col. Aaron Bank Hall with the Soldier's Medal, an award for troops who "distinguished himself or herself by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy."
The Soldier's Medal is the highest award of valor that can be earned outside of combat, officials said.
Mitchell, a native of Syracuse, N.Y., said his wife had sent him to the store on May 20, 2012, when he came upon a car on its side on Spring Avenue.
Mitchell used a knife to break a rear window. He cut the seatbelt so he could pull the driver, a woman, from the vehicle, which was blanketed in a smokey haze.
He said he worried the car would tip over, further injuring the woman.
Mitchell carried the woman to a safe distance, then crawled back into the car to retrieve her belongings.
Officials said Mitchell put his own life in danger by crawling into the car and said his actions reflect his "completely unimpeachable character."
Mitchell, who sustained minor lacerations and superficial cuts to his hands, wrists and forearm, was praised by many within Army Special Operations Command.
Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, commander of USASOC, said acts of valor are expected overseas, where soldiers know they can be called upon to be brave and heroic.
"It's special, though, when we understand that those values are carried out outside of service," he said.
"He didn't have to do what he did," Cleveland added.
Mitchell was an example for his fellow soldiers and civilians alike, Cleveland said.
USASOC Command Sgt. Maj. George Bequer also praised Mitchell, saying his actions were "unnatural."
"On that particular day, Staff Sgt. Mitchell forgot about himself and only thought about another person," he said.
Speaking after the ceremony, Mitchell said he believes he did what any soldier would have done if put in the same situation.
"I don't think I did anything different than anyone else," he said. "I just happened to be at the right place at the right time."
His mother, Marilyn Martinez-Mitchell, said Mitchell's actions were fitting for the young man she raised in upstate New York.
"Every time I turn around, he's done something," she said. "He's always been a good kid. I'm very, very proud."
Mitchell said he has been unable to get in touch with the woman he pulled from the wreck, but believes she has made a complete recovery.
Mitchell is a signal support systems noncommissioned officer with the 8th Military Information Support Battalion.
The medal, on par with the Distinguished Flying Cross, is relatively rare, according to Army Human Resources Command.
Fewer than 150 soldiers have been awarded the medal since 2001 with less than 50 being awarded outside of war zones, according to award statistics. Only the Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross has been awarded fewer times.