FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- A Fort Rucker Army Community Service specialist never expected to be considered a hero, or even had any idea on how to be one, but now she has an award that proves she is worthy of a hero’s mantle.
Susan Hesser received the Army Safety Guardian Award from David Parker, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center chief of staff, during a ceremony in Bldg. 5700 July 17 for her actions in helping a vehicle accident victim on I-65 in January.
“Your actions really say a lot about your character,” Parker told Hesser during the presentation. “Your care for humanity to think to stop and see what’s going on in that car, your quick thinking to stabilize her neck, and your calmness in keeping the victim and her mother calm really say a lot about you. If more people did what you did, this would be a better world. It’s really refreshing to hear what you did during these times we’re living in right now.”
The award is given out for extraordinary actions and heroism that save people from harm or protect Army equipment, according to Parker.
“I wish more people, when they see something that requires action to help people, would stop and do what she did – the world would be a better place,” he added. “These days, it is very uncommon for folks to do something like she did for fear of the (COVID-19) virus, or for fear of doing something wrong. What she did was not anything normal in my eyes – it was extraordinary.”
Hesser’s ascent into hero status took place in January as she was returning to Fort Rucker after a visit with a Gold Star mother in Mobile.
As she and then-Lyster Army Health Clinic medic Sgt. 1st Class Tanya Foderingham (who will receive the same award at her new assignment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina) were traveling down I-65, traffic slowed down and eventually they came upon the aftermath of a three-car accident, with one car in the median. They then noticed the injured person in that car, and also that no one else had stopped to help, Hesser said.
“They immediately pulled the vehicle over to assist the accident victim. While working to get the driver's side door open, the woman began to complain about pain in her back and then briefly lost consciousness. Ms. Hesser quickly retrieved a towel from the back seat of the car, folded it and placed it under the woman's neck, and called 911,” according to the award citation.
“Once the accident victim regained consciousness, the pair worked together to calm the woman. When the victim's phone rang, Ms. Hesser calmly informed the woman's mother of her daughter's accident. Ms. Hesser then moved to the backseat of the car to help hold the woman's neck stable while SFC Foderingham checked the victim's pupils and pulse. The team remained with the woman and kept her calm for nearly 40 minutes until emergency responders arrived.”
Despite having the hardware to prove her hero’s status, Hesser shrugs off the mantle.
“I’m extremely humbled, honored and thankful for this award,” she said. “I feel like I didn’t do anything extraordinary or heroic in any way, for me it was just the right thing to do. When I saw the woman in there, I thought of my mother and my sister right away, and there was no way I could leave them behind, and I knew I couldn’t leave (the victim) behind either.”
She added that she had never given any forethought to what she would do in an emergency situation such as this one.
“This was my first time ever witnessing anyone in an accident, and I didn’t really know what to expect or what to do. You see this stuff on TV, but that doesn’t prepare you for it. I tried to do the best that I could, and when I spoke with the young lady’s mom, that’s what gave me more fire to want to be there for her and help her out.”
Hesser said that Foderingham directed her actions and she gave the senior NCO much of the credit for the response, adding that she never did find out what happened to the victim after emergency response personnel removed her from the scene.
She also admitted that, despite the resulting pain of sitting awkwardly for so long in the backseat, getting dirty from walking in the mud and breaking three fingernails, she would do it all again if the need ever arises.
“Without a doubt,” Hesser said. “Although I might take a couple of days off work afterwards next time – I was sore for a few days.
“I never thought I’d be the one to get an award,” she added. “I’m used to being the person that likes to hang out in the background and cheer for everyone else -- talk them up and be that cheerleader. To be the one in the spotlight is definitely not something I’m used to. At the same time, it feels kind of good.”
She said she plans to display the award prominently in the entryway of her home.
Hesser’s award is the 15th Army Safety Guardian Award given out in 2020, according to CRC officials.