U.S. Army Sgt. Stuart Fredieu, Sgt. Coty Clare and Spc. Ryan Guillot, all with Alpha Company, 1st Bn, 509th Inf Reg, were awarded the Soldier’s Medal at a special ceremony at Fort Polk Dec. 15.
The three Geronimos received the medal for the rescuing 21-year-old Michael Skinner from the burning cab of his truck, following a crash off South Boundry Road in the Hineston area.
Skinner, who believes he dozed off and his truck left the roadway, was knocked out in the cab. He believes he owes his life to the three soldiers who happened by at 3 a.m. on their way to a situational training exercise.
According to Guillot, the three – traveling in two trucks - saw Skinners truck and first thought it was some kind of controlled burn. But then the trio decided to stop and just to make sure there were no casualties.
“When we got to the vehicle, we saw there was a guy trapped inside,” said Guillot, who hails from Donaldsonville.
Fredieu, a Shreveport native, said it was one of the worst wrecks he’d seen. “I didn’t think anyone could be alive,” he said.
Brig. Gen. James Yarbrough, commander, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, described the wrecked vehicle’s condition as it was related to him.
“The young man was pinned in the cab, undercarriage was ripped off, front end crushed and in flames,” Yarbrough said.
Clare, the ranking Soldier among the three, said he told his fellow Soldiers that they needed to move Skinner away from the burning vehicle.
“I had to dig his legs from under the truck,” said Clare, who calls Oklahoma City, Okla., home.
Yarbrough described the three Soldiers’ actions:
“They manually pried the steel frame of the door off of the vehicle and freed Michael Skinner, after lots of difficulty, even when flames continued to build,” he said. “They got him out, unconscious, and evacuated him to a hospital. His (Skinner’s) mother agrees — it sure beats the alternative.”
Fredieu said he didn’t think about what he was doing.
“We just did what we needed to do,” he said. “I wasn’t afraid. The front of the truck was on fire, but we’d all been deployed and seen stuff like that before.”
“We’re trained not to think, just react,” he said. “I never gave it a second thought. I don’t think I did anything heroic, I was just doing what any Soldier would do.
A lot of guys in the military do this every day and don’t get recognized for it.”
Yarbrough likened the Soldier’s Medal, the highest peacetime award given for valor, to the Silver Star.
“The key point is personal risk of life,” Yarbrough said. “In 32 years in the Army I’ve seen three Soldier’s Medals awarded. The bar is set high. In the last 12 months, the Army has awarded 45 Silver Stars and 43 Soldier’s Medals, so it’s actually more difficult to receive a Soldier’s Medal.”
Yarbrough said the best part of the story is the Soldiers never gave it a second thought.
“It is a great reflection on the values of today’s Soldiers,” Yarbrough said. “They won’t quit, never give up and never leave a fallen comrade behind.”
JRTC and Fort Polk Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Hof said the actions of Clare, Fredieu and Guillot were a reflection of the Soldiers stationed at Fort Polk. “With the commanding general presenting the awards, I think this represents the goodness and contributions the Soldiers at the Home of Heroes have made over the past eight-10 years,” Hof said.
Yarbrough closed the ceremony by complimenting the three awardees.
“That night, these three Soldiers were magnificent,” he said.
“Fort Polk and the entire Army are proud of you.”