By Julia Simpkins, Public Affairs OfficeDecember 10, 2009
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- On an ordinary Saturday morning in South Carolina, two noncommissioned officers from Fort Jackson's U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School were driving toward Augusta, Ga. The trip came to an end when the passenger, Staff Sgt. Mauricio Sosa, spotted an SUV in the oncoming lane flipping over toward them.
"It was far away, but the car flipped over many times and there was smoke in the middle of the highway," Sosa said. Staff Sgt. Geczel Rivera was driving. "I told him, there's an accident in front of us, moving toward us, on the median. I told him to go slow and try to pull over and call 911."
Rivera pulled over to the right shoulder and he and Sosa ran across the highway to the median, where the demolished vehicle lay on its side -- with a child still in it.
"We didn't really hesitate. We just ran out of the vehicle," Rivera said. "We heard screams coming from the vehicle -- we ran faster."
Sosa added, "I heard voices when I got close to the vehicle. I heard a lady asking, 'Where's my baby'' There was smoke, and it was dark. I couldn't see so I decided to look through the rear windshield."
All the crumpled vehicle's windows were shattered. Sosa and Rivera crawled through the rear window opening and heard a child crying and screaming.
"A little girl grabbed my arm and was screaming and begging me to let her out, but the seatbelt was jammed," Sosa said.
The Soldiers were given a first aid kit by another passerby and used scissors from it to free the girl.
The wrecked vehicle's driver, Pamela Cockrell, later said she also was having an ordinary day until the accident.
"I looked in my side mirror so I could change lanes toward the left. I used my blinker and even though I double-checked, when I went to change lanes a car was there."
The two vehicles collided, causing her to lose control of hers.
" ... it started rolling and when I stopped my first instinct was to check on my daughter. I couldn't get her out and I got out of the truck," she said.
Pamela Cockrell's 5-year-old daughter, Zoe, had minor injuries, including a bruised jaw and a cut on her arm. With all passengers out of the vehicles, Sosa and Rivera collected Cockrell's valuables from around the wreck, while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive. During the wait, she said many drivers stopped to render aid and comfort.
"People kept bringing me stuff. A nurse stopped by and brought my daughter a stuffed animal from her car. It's amazing; you hear about bad things that happen all the time but you don't hear about the good things people do," she said through tears. "I'm just grateful to be all right. God placed the right people at the right time to help us. I must have said, 'Thank you,' a thousand times, but it doesn't feel like I said it enough."
Pamela Cockrell's husband, Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Cockrell, a military policeman with the 2nd Battalion, 345th Combat Support Regiment, was at Fort Jackson when the accident happened.
"I was at a drill that weekend, and we had just (finished) formation and my wife called. She was frantic, saying she had flipped the vehicle four times and that Zoe was still in the vehicle. My heart dropped down to my stomach," the staff sergeant said.
After his family was treated and released from a nearby trauma center, Jeffrey Cockrell realized that fellow Soldiers had helped his family, possibly saving their lives.
Meanwhile, Sosa and Rivera were concerned about the Cockrell family, wanting assurance of their continued well-being.
"I was ecstatic when they called and told me who they were," Jeffrey Cockrell said. "It (hearing from them) almost brought me to tears because I wanted someone to thank. I offered to take them to lunch the next day and that's when I met both of them."
Since the accident, which occurred in October, the Cockrells have become friends with Sosa and Rivera and they have eaten lunch together several times.
Jeffrey Cockrell said he's also grateful to the self-described medic who immediately followed Sosa and Rivera to the accident scene.
"There was also an Airman who was on the scene -- he told the other Soldiers that he was (stationed) at Fort Jackson as well. We can't find him and if he's reading this, please step forward. He was a first responder, giving first aid until paramedics got there," he said.
For their bravery, Sosa and Rivera have been given coins of appreciation by senior officers in their chain of command and recommended for military awards.
"I am deeply impressed with the courage of Staff Sergeant Rivera and Staff Sergeant Sosa in immediately teaming up to save the lives of these two Army family members at the risk of their own, but I am not surprised at their actions," said Chaplain (Col.) Christopher Wisdom, USACHCS deputy commandant. "From the inception of their tours of duty (here), they have distinguished themselves as courageous professional NCOs who always take the initiative to ensure excellent outcomes in their respective missions."
Describing his state of mind, Sosa said, "I can't stand here and not do anything. Nobody else was around. I was deployed twice, and I've seen a lot of things, but when you're off duty you don't expect to see something like that."