By Francis Chung, Pentagram Staff PhotojournalistMarch 30, 2017
Medal of Honor Recipients commemorated National Medal of Honor Day by conferring the 2017 Citizen Honors Awards to five Americans and one organization during a ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall's Brucker Hall March 25.
The awards presentation was preceded by a ceremony during which Medal of Honor recipients Michael J. Fitzmaurice and William D. Swenson laid a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
25 Medal of Honor recipients were present at Brucker Hall as the Congressional Medal of Honor Society presented its highest award.
"This is a big day for Medal of Honor recipients," said Thomas G. Kelley, president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. "It's a great day where we can recognize the achievements of ordinary Americans who faced extraordinary circumstances with unwavering courage, service and in some cases, risked their own lives to save others."
Molly Hudgens, a school counselor from Ashland City, Tenn., received the Citizen Honors Award for preventing an armed 14-year-old eighth-grader from shooting teachers and administrators at Sycamore Middle School.
Hudgens recalls that, on Sept. 28, 2016, the student -- with whom she had established a prior rapport -- came to her office in an "agitated" state. He produced a 45mm handgun with a fully loaded magazine, and told Hudgens she was the only one who could talk him out of using it.
"I was fearful for myself some, but mostly for the children and the staff in our building," Hudgens said. "I also was concerned about this child. I believed, and I still do, that he could be helped."
Hudgens recalls kneeling beside the student, speaking with him about the troubles he had been experiencing, and urging him to hand over his firearm.
After about 45 minutes, the student surrendered the weapon. No shots were fired during the incident.
Hudgens noted that her first year as an educator coincided with the Columbine High School shootings in April 1999, after which she began to do extensive research on how to recognize and respond to warning signs that students were contemplating gun violence.
She wrote a training module that she has presented to educators, law enforcement personnel and legal professionals throughout her state -- including many of those who subsequently became involved in the incident she defused.
"We are meant sometimes for specific things," Hudgens said.
Past preparation was also put to unexpected use when Katelyn Ibarra assisted passengers injured in a bus accident near her hometown of Steamboat Springs, Co.
At 17, the second-youngest person to ever receive the Citizen Honors Award, Ibarra was trained in first aid through the Girl Scouts of Colorado, and her skills played a crucial role on March 29, 2016 when she and her family came upon a city transit bus that had suffered a head-on collision with an SUV under snowy conditions on a mountain road.
While her father went to the SUV and her mother called 911, Ibarra grabbed the first-aid kit from her family's vehicle and climbed into the bus through the windshield.
Describing the scene inside, Ibarra recalls seeing lots of shattered glass and twisted metal, along with "a lot of blood." Among the dozen or so injured was a man in the front of the bus in severe shock, "screaming and crying."
"I just kept thinking, this is really bad," she recounted. "I knew that they obviously needed help."
Ibarra administered gauze and tissue to crash victims and also applied makeshift bags of ice that her mother was filling outside of the bus. After emergency responders arrived, she stayed with injured passengers as they waited to be evacuated one by one, and helped carry their belongings onto ambulances.
She was the last person off the bus that night.
Ibarra says that the incident has reaffirmed her longstanding desire to enter the medical field, perhaps as a physician's assistant or nurse practitioner.
"I wasn't sure if I could handle pressure, guts or stuff I've seen on TV, but in person, I think I did OK," she said.
On how it felt to be recognized by Medal of Honor recipients, Ibarra said, simply: "Awesome."
Adam Brunk, Jacob Ellis, Travis Ellis and the Fisher House Foundation also received Citizen Honors Awards during the March 25 ceremony.
Pentagram Staff Photojournalist Francis Chung can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.