FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Aug. 11, 2011) -- Soldiers do not have to enter a combat zone or even serve during wartime to do something heroic, as retired Sgt. 1st Class Scott Shigley proved 11 years ago.

Shigley received the Army Commendation Medal for helping save the lives of civilians in a car accident on June 17, 2000, in Meade County, Ky., but his actions have been upgraded to the Soldier’s Medal.

The Soldier’s Medal is the highest honor a Soldier can receive for an act of valor in a noncombat situation.

Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., commander of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, presented Shigley with the Soldier’s Medal on Aug. 3, with Shigley’s family in attendance, including his daughter, Pvt. Mari Shigley, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 40th Military Police Internment and Resettlement Battalion.

Caslen said Shigley’s actions were upgraded because he risked his own life to rescue citizens from a burning vehicle.

“It’s a peacetime award … but it’s probably the highest valorous award that you would get, because it is the giving of your life and the willingness to give your life in order to save somebody else’s during peacetime,” Caslen said.

Caslen said it was the first Soldier’s Medal he has presented.

Caslen also noted that someone within the Army made the decision to do the right thing and upgrade Shigley’s award, even though his actions took place more than 10 years ago.

Shigley was a staff sergeant and working as a corrections officer at Fort Knox, Ky., when he and his family came across an automobile accident in rural Kentucky. To the best of Shigley’s recollection, a drunk or drugged driver had slammed head-on into a church van. A man and his son, a young boy of about 10, were jammed in the front of the vehicle and could not get out. The boy was unconscious and his father was frantic. When Shigley arrived, only a few others were trying to help. Traffic had backed up and emergency responders had not yet arrived.

It was raining, but the engine was on fire. According to the citation, Shigley was told to stay back because of fear of explosion, but ignored the warnings.

Shigley worked with other volunteers to try to put out the engine fire. They dumped a cooler full of ice on the fire, but it would not go out.

They were able to get the man out, but the boy was still pinned in the car, unconscious.

They soaked a blanket in rainwater, and Shigley remembers covering the unconscious boy with the wet blanket, hoping to protect him from the fire.

The volunteers grabbed handfuls of wet mud from the side of the road and covered the engine, and finally the fire went out.

When emergency responders arrived, they were able to pry the boy out of the car and get him to the hospital. The boy was released the next day.

Shigley’s wife, Carla, and their two daughters watched the rescue from their own vehicle.

“You start praying,” Carla said. “The blessing was that they came out alive.”

Shigley went on to serve the Army for 23 years. He deployed to Honduras and Iraq. His notable jobs include working for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff security and protection team and serving as detainee operations noncommissioned officer in charge for the 4th Infantry Division, Multi-National Corps-Iraq, and as detainee operations NCOIC for the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks.

Now retired, Shigley works at CAC’s Collective Training Directorate as a training analyst for Northrop Grumman.

Shigley and his wife live in Easton. They have two adult daughters and two grandchildren.

Shigley, modest about his award, said the rescue was a group effort. He said it’s something anyone, not just a Soldier, should do to save the life of a fellow human being.

“I would think that any person would have jumped in and did what had to be done, regardless of whether they were a Soldier or not,” he said.