51st SFS defender earns airman’s medal
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- A 51st Security Forces Squadron Defender was recognized for his heroic actions of saving four people’s lives.
Staff Sgt. Rodney X. Dowell, 51st SFS information assurance manager, received the Airman’s Medal, the highest non-combat medal awarded in the Air Force, for saving the lives of four people trapped in a burning vehicle in early 2015.
“It goes to show that you don’t have to be on duty to save someone’s life,” said Dowell. “You don’t want to be one of the bystanders just watching or driving by, and not everyone has the same mentality. I would hope if I were ever in a bad situation, somebody would do the same for me.”
Dowell was driving to unit PT early in the morning while stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, when he saw the overturned vehicle sputtering flames and smoke on the side of the road. He immediately pulled over and began to pull the passengers out without any hesitation.
Disregarding the flames and fumes continually getting thicker and closer to the passenger compartment, Dowell immediately pulled two of the victims out from the back of the vehicle, but couldn’t pull the driver off of the last passenger.
“That’s when it started to hit me, when the fire started coming in the cabin and [the driver] was lying there, passed out,” said Dowell. “I didn’t want to risk dropping him on top of the other passenger.”
Dowell flagged down two more drivers and used their combined strength to pull the unconscious driver and the last passenger out of the vehicle.
Once the victims had been attended to by emergency personnel and the scene was contained, Dowell went back home to change out his now blood-soaked clothing and reported to his duty section. Dowell’s leadership quickly realized the depth of his actions.
“You never know when it can be your last day,” said Dowell. “Even a minute later, those people could have died if I hadn’t saved them.”
Dowell departed Florida to join Team Osan just a few months later, where he was eventually presented his medal.
“I’ve known Staff Sgt. Dowell since 2010, when I was his detachment commander in Bahrain,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Ringer, 51st SFS commander. “He was reserved, professional, dependable and possessed an incredible work ethic, even as a young [airman first class]. It’s nice to see that nothing, other than his rank, has changed.”