FORT RILEY, Ks. (Army News Service, Nov. 30, 2006) - Spc. Ronnie Wheat wears a Combat Action Badge, proof he survived a life-threatening encounter while deployed in Iraq.

Now he wears a Soldier's Medal, proof the 70th Engineer Battalion Soldier helped save two civilians from a life-threatening accident on a highway between Fort Benning, Ga., and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

Col. Norbert Jocz, 3rd Brigade commander, presented the medal Nov. 17 in front of a battalion formation on the Kodiak Parade Field on Custer Hill.

"It's pretty neat," the Oklahoma native said about getting the medal. "I never expected to get anything like this."

The Army awarded Wheat the medal because he and a fellow Soldier rescued two people trapped in a burning pickup that had been involved in an accident in April 2004. A third person in another vehicle died at the scene.

Driving back to Fort Benning after visiting a friend at Fort Leonard Wood, Wheat and his buddy came upon an accident involving the pickup pulling a 16-foot flatbed trailer and a car. The pickup rolled down a hill and caught on fire, Wheat recalled.

Wheat turned his car around and went back to assist, he said. "Two guys were in the (truck) screaming, and we kicked the windshield out and pulled them out" before the truck exploded in flames, he said.

"I just reacted without thinking," Wheat said, thinking about whether any Army training had helped him save the two men.

The accident happened shortly after Wheat completed basic and advanced individual training, "so I was a little bit more on the ball," he said.

Their quick response made a difference, Wheat said. "The two guys were okay. I got a note from their family; they wrote me a letter."

(Mike Heronemus writes for the Fort Riley Post.)