By Carola Meusel (USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs Office)August 23, 2011
STUTTGART, Germany -- Spc. Willie Smith was honored by the Böblingen Police Department during a ceremony Aug. 2 for rescuing an elderly couple from an apartment fire in July.
Rudi Denzer, chief of the Böblingen Police Department, awarded Smith, a Soldier assigned to Headquarters Support Company, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, Airborne, with a certificate of appreciation and the official coat of arms of the state of Baden-Württemberg Police, to include a declaration in English, during the ceremony.
The event was attended by German police officials, as well as by Maj. Gen. Michael Repass, Special Operations Command Europe commander; his wife Linda; Lt. Col. Isaac Peltier, 1/10th SFG(A), commander; Capt. Steven Payne, Headquarters Support Company commander and fellow Special Forces Soldiers.
They all came to recognize their comrade who selflessly supported the Böblingen Police during a fire rescue mission at Herrschaftsgartenstrasse in Böblingen on July 3.
According to the Böblingen Police, the fire began in a wooden shed located between two houses at Herrschaftsgartenstrasse 10 and 12. Both houses, as well as the adjacent buildings, had to be evacuated.
The timbered house at Herrschaftsgartenstrasse 10 completely burnt down. The home at Herrschaftsgartenstrasse 12 is still inaccessible. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Smith, along with a friend, was on his way home to Panzer Kaserne from the Böblingen city festival, when he noticed the fire at around 3:45 a.m. While Smith ran into the buildings to knock on doors and to inform the residents about the fire, his friend immediately called the police.
"When I saw the fire, my first thought was to run into the buildings to ensure that everybody was aware of what's happening," Smith said.
Meanwhile, 20 to 30 people gathered outside the burning buildings. Some were residents who managed to exit their apartments, and others were curious onlookers.
When the first policemen arrived, they questioned residents and learned that an elderly couple in their 70s, who lived on the first floor of Herrschaftsgartenstrasse 12, was missing. Two police officers and a police volunteer ran into the building.
Smith followed them without being prompted.
"The first time I realized that somebody followed us, was inside the burning house," said Jörg Schilling, police chief inspector of the Böblingen police department. "It doesn't happen very often that people support us during a mission. Therefore, it was a great experience for me and my colleagues."
As for Smith, his first instinct was to run into the building and help.
"I didn't think about myself. I was only thinking about those people inside that building," he said.
By the time Smith and the police entered the house, the thick smoke was making it hard to breathe and see. With some difficulty, the rescue team found the couple.
According to the police, the man was extremely confused and his wife had trouble getting out of bed.
Smith escorted the man out of the apartment and down the stairs to leave the burning building as fast as possible. Because the man was handicapped, Smith's assistance was crucial in rescuing the husband and wife in a timely manner. With Smith's support, the couple was able to escape. As they exited the building, the roof of Herrschaftsgartenstrasse 10 came down.
Other emergency services arrived on the scene shortly after the couple was rescued from the building and escorted to a safe haven.
"Because of Smith's courage and brave commitment, the rescue mission of the police was much faster and prevented any serious injuries of the affected persons," said Denzer, the chief of the Böblingen Police Department.
Smith is a native from Atlanta, Ga., and arrived in Stuttgart in April. The father of three children is assigned to the Headquarters Support Company as a budget technician. Smith has been with the Army for four years. His last assignment was in Kuwait, where he was deployed as a budget analyst for 12 months.
Capt. Steven Payne, the Headquarters Support Company commander, described Smith as a "great Soldier and example for all his fellow comrades, who holds up the Army values by exhibiting selfless service.
"That is exactly what characterizes a Soldier: the need to help others. It's an awesome feeling having one of my Soldiers honored here today. Smith's actions demonstrate our commitment to work hand-in-hand with our German neighbors," Payne said.
After receiving his certificate, Smith addressed the guests and thanked all of them for attending the ceremony and for the honors. Smith said he did not expect them.
"I simply was at the right place at the right time," he said.
Modest words for a brave Soldier, who, despite obvious danger, put his own fear aside to help others.
According to Denzer, that doesn't happen too often in today's world. "Most people are not that concerned about other people's destiny.
"I am so glad that we have such courageous people like Spc. Smith amongst our American friends, who go into harm's way in order to support others," he said.