Two Fort Bragg Families jumped into action on a quiet Sunday afternoon in October 2014. The Gassaway and Rogers Families were traveling in opposite directions on Route 27 in Sanford, North Carolina when they saw a car pinned to a tree and engulfed in smoke.
Master Sgt. Jeffery Gassaway of the 503rd Military Police Battalion, 16th Military Police Brigade, and Spc. Benjamin Rogers, 2nd Aviation Assault Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, earned the Soldier’s Medal for risking their lives that day in an attempt to rescue Brittney Stokes, the driver of the vehicle.
The Soldier’s Medal is the highest honor a Soldier can receive for an act of valor in a non-combat event.
“These two Soldiers had never met prior to this incident, but they both reacted with the same warrior ethos that we see in American Soldiers every day,” said Maj. Gen. Richard Clarke, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, during an awards ceremony at the XVIII Airborne Corps Noncommissioned Officer Academy, June 24.
When the Soldiers stopped to provide assistance, they discovered that the car was on fire and it was spreading.
Gassaway’s wife, Sara, and Rogers’ son, Issac, then 11 years old, grabbed whatever containers they could find and ran to a pond across the street for water.
While Gassaway and Rogers attempted to enter the vehicle to rescue Stokes, Sara and Isaac tried to control the fire.
“I didn’t really assess the situation and my likelihood of getting hurt or really any repercussions,” said Rogers. “I just saw a need and I filled it.”
Gassaway agreed. “Our job, as Soldiers, (is) that we react and go above the mile and do our duty to help a person ... go there and try to do all we could do to give whoever was in the vehicle a fighting chance,” he said.
The Soldiers were able to enter the car by shooting out a window with Gassaway’s personal firearm, but they were unable to remove Stokes from the vehicle. The two men protected her from the rapidly encroaching flames while waiting for first responders to arrive.
During the ceremony, Sara received the Commanders' Award for Civilian Service and Isaac was awarded the Fort Bragg Directorate of Emergency Services Youth Courage Award.
Although Stokes did not survive, the efforts to save her were heroic, said Clarke. “I know that the Family of the woman inside that car takes comfort in knowing that she was not alone. These Soldiers and their Families heeded the call of duty and laid down their lives for another in an embodiment of the Army values.
“When our nation thinks about a Soldier, or an Army Family, they think about the types of actions taken by Master Sergeant Gassaway and Specialist Rogers,” said Clarke. “It makes me think of selfless service, action in the face of danger, and willing to sacrifice your life for that of another.”