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'The definition of a hero': Soldier gets Army's highest noncombat honor for rescuing man trapped in burning car

Maj. Gen. James J. Mingus, the 82nd Airborne Division commanding general, awards Capt. Travis Johnson the Soldier's Medal at the Hall of Heroes on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Oct. 9, 2019.

JUSTIN STAFFORD/U.S. ARMY

By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville Observer | Published: October 10, 2019

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune New Service) On Feb. 27, 2018, Capt. Travis Johnson was driving home on a pitch black road after hours of training at Fort Bragg and noticed a burning vehicle flipped on its side.

Johnson stopped to rescue a man who called for help.

He texted his chain of command within the 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division to let his leaders know his name would be in police reports.

Johnson drove home and went to bed after knowing the man was safe. He didn't think about the incident until months later.

Now a physician's assistant with the 60th Troop Command's Medical Detachment of the North Carolina National Guard, Johnson's chain of command with the 82nd Airborne Division recommended him for the Soldier's Medal.

Established in 1926, the Soldier's Medal is the Army's highest award for valor in a noncombat situation, officials said.

Johnson, who served in the Army for 14 years, received the award during a ceremony Wednesday in front of his family, friends and colleagues.

Maj. Gen. James Mingus, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, recounted what led to Johnson receiving the medal.

Johnson was traveling on Vass Road about 11:30 p.m. and stopped when he saw the blazing vehicle.

He grabbed medical gear and combat shears from his vehicle as the other vehicle exploded with fire, Mingus said.

Mingus said Johnson shattered windows, putting himself at risk, and cut the occupant out.

"This car's on fire the entire time," Mingus said. "He's burning his hand. As a former burn victim, I can tell you that when it's hot, it's hot, and the natural reaction is to retreat and get away from that heat."

Mingus said Johnson persevered and didn't even tell his own parents about the incident until about a month later.

"He was not aware that his chain of command had put in for the award until recently," Mingus said. "He expected nothing — just saving another man's life and putting his own at risk and expecting nothing in return — the definition of a hero."

In describing that night to his peers Wednesday, Johnson said he was terrified — not for his own well-being — but terrified that he would fail.

"I was terrified I was going to fail the guy trapped in the vehicle, but I persevered," Johnson said. "I never quit; and one thing I want my kids to know is even though obstacles may come your way, just never quit, keep trying."

Johnson said he was fortunate to have his medical equipment with him, and he was wearing a flame retardant suit from his training that day.

Johnson said he assessed the man's injuries, and it appeared the cuts on his own hands and singed eyebrows were the worst of the injuries he noticed.

Johnson credited his Army training for his response.

"They trained me to keep calm in any type of emergency, and that's basically what I did was keep calm and focus on the mission," he said.

©2019 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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