Sunday, February 6, 2011

SSG Daniel Schaffer Awarded The Soldier's Medal for Rescuing Fellow Soldier From Raging River

The Soldier’s Medal is awarded to any person of the Armed Forces of the United States, or of a friendly foreign nation who while serving in any capacity with the Army of the United States, distinguished him/herself by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy. The same degree of heroism is required as for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross. The performance must have involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy. Awards will not be made solely on the basis of having saved a life.

From Stars and Stripes article "Vicenza NCO receives Soldier's Medal for river rescue" by Kent Harris on 4 Feb 2011:

"It was Aug. 7, 2010, and a patrol led by Staff Sgt. Daniel Schaffer was returning to Combat Outpost Conlon. In order to get back, they had to cross a river that, under normal conditions, wasn’t much more than a stream. But several days of rain had added a lot of swift-flowing water.

I lost my footing, maybe four feet from the other bank,” Paquet said in an interview Thursday. “There are some parts I don’t remember after that.”

“He went down for a long time and when he came back up, he was obviously not himself, probably in shock,” Schaffer said.

So while most of the patrol manned security — waiting for another attack they thought was likely — Schaffer handed off his rifle, dropped some gear and went after his struggling soldier.

With a combination of swimming and sheer determination, he reached a half-conscious Paquet, who was being carried away by the water.

“At that point, I was so exhausted, I couldn’t do anything,” Paquet said. “I think I would have died if he wouldn’t have grabbed me when he did.”

It took Schaffer a while to steady himself and Paquet. Other soldiers were eventually able to help them out of the water and back onto the same bank they had started from. They rendered aid to Paquet and got him back on his feet."

Unfortunately I haven't been able to find a copy of the award citation but below are SSG Schaffer's comments made the day he was awarded the Soldier's Medal in Vicenza, Italy:

"MG Hogg, Distinguished guests, and Soldiers of the 173rd Airborne:

No mention of what happened on 7 August 2010 is complete without recognition of the exceptional professionalism and bravery of the men of 3rd Platoon, Chosen Company. Their resolve and discipline were essential to the successful completion of our mission that day.

I am honored to serve with each of you, and all the Paratroopers of the Chosen Few and the Rock Battalion.

Without their force of character, the circumstances dealt with that day would have been met on much less favorable terms.

Nothing that was done would have been possible without the devotion of past leaders to the development of these qualities. It’s on us to ensure that they continue to characterize our approach to this work well into the future.

Thank you for your time."

I had the privilege of meeting SSG Schaffer during my recent trip to Italy. Heck, we even tossed back a few in friendship and as a salute to his valor. What an honor and privilege to be in the company of men such as SSG Schaffer.

What the article doesn't tell you is that those men had been working for days helping to rescue survivors and recover bodies from massive mudslides due to days and days of hard rain.  The article also doesn't tell many of the chilling details of the event.  One of the Soldiers told me last week, "It was the scariest day of my life in the Army."  That Soldier is a SFC and has seen a lot so his statement speaks volumes.

I am eternally grateful that SSG Schaffer did what he did without thought for his own life to save the life of SPC Paquet.

Some photos from last week:

Me hugging SSG Schaffer after the CHOSEN FEW gave me the awesome signed flag

SSG Schaffer (on left) at Vega and Zeamer's cookout

At William Wallace Pub, Vicenza, Italy.  SSG Schaffer is second from right

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