JBER paratrooper receives Soldier’s Medal

Spartan pulled man from burning vehicle


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From left, Col. Matt McFarlane, Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Hacker, Sgt. 1st Class John Kerns and Cameron Kerns stand on stage as a large crowd of paratroopers with the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division applaude after John Kerns was presented with the Soldier’s Medal on Thursday, Nov. 21.

MIKE NESPER

When Sgt. 1st Class John Kerns saw a vehicle veer off Interstate 95 in North Carolina and smash into a tree, he didn’t think. He just reacted.

Kerns pulled the incapacitated driver from the burning vehicle minutes before its gas tank exploded.

Kerns even grabbed the man’s Blackberry so he wouldn’t lose all of his contacts.

For his bravery, the Army awarded Kerns the Soldier’s Medal. Kerns, a member of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, accepted the Army’s highest peacetime honor in front of a packed auditorium of his fellow Spartans on Thursday, Nov. 21 on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Kerns said his Army training took over when he saw the vehicle swerve off the road Feb. 18, 2011.

“I don’t remember weighing the odds,” Kerns said in a short speech after brigade commander Col. Matt McFarlane pinned the medal on him.

Kerns, who was off duty, stabilized the driver with help from other motorists until emergency responders arrived, according to a press release.

He “acted swiftly and without regards to his own safety,” the release said.

Kerns told the room full of paratroopers he knows each of them would have reacted just as he did.

“Anyone of you here today would have done the same thing,” he said.

The Soldier’s Medal is a seldom-given honor, McFarlane said. He said it was no surprise the way Kerns responded to the incident.

“He’s a special leader,” McFarlane said.

Fear never set in until Kerns reflected on the event later, he said in an interview following the ceremony. Kerns said he followed up with the hospital and learned the driver was stable and improving.

Kerns said he had some reservations about accepting the medal — he was just doing his job.

“We don’t look for these kinds of awards,” he said.

Kerns enlisted in 1989 and has deployed five times. Once in 1991 in support of Operation Desert Shield and to Afghanistan and Iraq two times each in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Kerns said he was honored to receive the Soldier’s Medal.

“It’s humbling,” he said. “Just the consideration itself is an honor.”

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