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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Maybe it’s his familiarity with stressful situations, but Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Alden had no problem approaching a flaming car on the autobahn this February.

Alden, who rides bulls and jumps out of planes, was driving to Grafenwöhr on Feb. 21 for training when he spotted an accident on the other side of the autobahn. As he got closer, Alden saw a man on fire escape from the flaming car. Alden pulled over and instinctively sprang into action.

For his efforts that day, Alden was awarded the Soldiers Medal on Thursday. The medal is the highest award given for noncombat heroism.

"Honestly, I think anybody would have done it," said the 35-year-old from Smithfield, N.C. "To be recognized is a treat. I think that there are people downrange who probably do a lot more than what I did with one traffic accident."

Alden serves as a senior guidance counselor and works inside the recruiting office on Kaiserslautern’s Pulaski Barracks. His battalion commander, Lt. Col. Ken Sullivan with the Albany (N.Y.) Recruiting Battalion, presented Alden with the medal on Thursday. The Albany Recruiting Battalion covers Europe, Africa and parts of northeast America.

"It’s like Sergeant Alden said — more soldiers than not would do the same thing," Sullivan said. "But you never know until you test it. We all wonder how we would do if we’re under fire or whatever, but when you handle things under stress, that’s the mark of a good soldier."

After pulling over, Alden grabbed the first aid kit from his car and crossed the autobahn. He ensured the man was breathing and no longer on fire. The man told Alden a woman was in the vehicle. Alden told another person on scene to stay with the man while he went to check on the woman in the flaming vehicle.

Truck drivers were spraying the vehicle with fire extinguishers as Alden approached the car. He noticed the woman was trapped and appeared to be unconscious. He did not hear any screams for help. At that point, fire completely engulfed the car, and Alden told the others to move away.

Alden and the others moved the injured man about 50 meters from the car, and he used scissors to cut away the man’s charred clothes.

Another passer-by, a doctor, arrived on scene, which was on the A-6 between Heilbronn and Nürnberg. Alden told the doctor that he had worked as a firefighter and an emergency medical technician. Alden and the doctor placed an IV in the victim, and Alden covered the victim with a burn blanket.

After about 15 to 20 minutes, German police and firefighters arrived, and Alden told them what happened. Alden gave the police his contact information, got back in his car and continued to Grafenwöhr.

"The firefighters just kind of sat there and looked at me," Alden said. "The Polizei officer who talked to me was real thankful. He said, ‘People don’t do that, unfortunately.’ He thanked me like three or four times."


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