CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE WARRIOR, Iraq - "I went in the living room and couldn't see anything - it was all black and thick," said Spc. Shane Darst, describing a house fire. "I got down on my knees and crawled into the living room. There was only about an inch between the carpet and smoke where you could see clear across to the kitchen but you could see the fire ripping the kitchen apart."

Darst, an armor crewmember serving with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, "Thunderhorse," attached to the 1st Advise and Assist Task Force, 1st Infantry Division, received a recommendation for the Department of Defense Soldier's Medal for saving a neighbor's life in his hometown of Marengo, Ohio when he was home for environmental morale leave in December 2010.

Darst said he and his wife just arrived home when he heard something that sounded like fireworks about two houses down. Realizing the sound was a transformer exploding, Darst said he ran to the house and entered after learning someone was still inside.

Darst said he began yelling for his neighbor to make some type of noise if he or she could hear Darst's voice.

"I heard something fall over and inside my head I said please God let that be him," said Darst.

After finding a girl inside, Darst dragged her out the front door to safety.

Upon returning to COS Warrior, Darst received a 'Devil Brigade' coin and a Certificate of Achievement for his act of courage.

Spc. Tyler Shuell, Darst's best friend, also serving with Company D, said he thinks Darst receiving the Soldier's Medal is well deserved.

"When I heard about it, I was proud of him," said Shuell, who hails from Portland, Ore. "He's definitely the type of guy who will go out of his way for you."

Congress officially introduced the Soldier's Medal in 1926 to recognize acts of bravery outside of combat. The criteria for receipt of the medal requires the member, serving under the U.S. Army, to encounter personal danger and a voluntary risk of his or her life - an act of bravery Darst said he did not think he could do.

"The thing that made me do it was that girl's scream," said Darst. "I kept thinking, if that was my daughter, if that was me in there, I'd want somebody to come get me. I never thought I'd be able to do something like that but whenever it happens, it's like, either you do it or you don't."

After the incident, Darst said he visited the family several times before he returned to COS Warrior.

Everyone was happy, he said, and although they lost belongings, he was glad to be a part of them having a merry Christmas by allowing them to have the gift of each other.

Darst is scheduled to receive the Soldier's Medal during an upcoming awards ceremony hosted by Thunderhorse Battalion.