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Ten U.S. soldiers are credited with saving lives after assisting the injured in a six-car pileup near Paju, north of Seoul.
Ten U.S. soldiers are credited with saving lives after assisting the injured in a six-car pileup near Paju, north of Seoul. (U.S. Army)

SEOUL — Jang Hyung-geun thought he was going to die on Nov. 11.

The 42-year-old salesman was on his way to visit a client when another car smashed into his as part of a six-car pileup near Paju, north of Seoul.

As he slowly regained consciousness in the wrecked vehicle, the first faces he saw weren’t Korean — they were American.

“I couldn’t move my body when those foreigners appeared out of nowhere to save me,” he said. “I haven’t had the chance to say how much I and my family are deeply grateful to them for saving my life. … They even drove me to the hospital.”

The Americans were a group of soldiers from the United Nations Command Security Battalion at the Joint Security Area on the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas. They were on their way to a day of recreation at Yongsan Garrison.

Luckily for Jang and the other injured Koreans, 27-year-old Sgt. Russell Smith was among the soldiers in the Yongsan-bound van that day.

Smith, a trained Army medic, treated the injured on the scene and made the decision to transport the most severely injured to a local Korean hospital.

After the accident, which happened three or four cars ahead of the van, Smith said he saw injured people everywhere, including a few who had been thrown from their cars into the roadway.

He found one person “slumped over the steering wheel” with gas leaking from a punctured tank in his car, he said.

“He was semi-conscious … could not open his eyes,” Smith said. “His face was really swollen,” and Smith thought he had a concussion.

While Smith worked on the injured, Sgt. Jamar Alford ran to the front of the accident scene and took control of guiding traffic.

Alford, 24, said each of the 10 soldiers in the van assisted in some way, from talking to the injured to handing out blankets.

Everyone “jumped in and did what they thought was right,” Alford said. “It seemed like we were actually trained to do it.”

When they were unable to figure out how long it would take for South Korean ambulances to arrive, Smith made the call to bring two of the injured to the hospital himself.

By the time they were done being heroes, they had lost their chance for bowling at Yongsan.

But that was OK, Alford said.

“We all felt good, we couldn’t stop smiling,” he said. “We all thought we did a really good thing that day.”

Smith has been nominated for an Army Commendation Medal, and the other troops, including Alford, have been recommended for Army Achievement medals.

Maj. Tom Hanson, battalion executive officer, said the actions demonstrate that his soldiers are top-notch.

“The fact that every one of our soldiers … acted like it was a battle drill makes clear that this is a unit that definitely sets a high standard on duty performance,” he said.

When Jang learned that the people who helped him were soldiers, he said he wasn’t surprised.

“So that’s why they are so … professional,” he said.

Top-notch troops

The soldiers in the van:

Sgt. Russell Smith

Sgt. Jamar Alford

Staff Sgt. Damon Brody

Staff Sgt. Albert Fleming

Staff Sgt. Joseph Hampton

Staff Sgt. Benjamin Daughtry

Staff Sgt. Charles Jackson

Spc. Andrew Hubbard

Spc. John Dotson

Spc. Michael Prieto

Source: United Nations Command

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