ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, May 27, 2008) - Two Soldiers who earned the Bronze Star in Iraq were among four Army grand marshals for the National Memorial Day Parade May 26.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Zanders and Staff Sgt. John Aughtman appeared on the "Heroes of Today" float, along with two other Soldiers: Capts. Robert Holcroft and Hayes Preston.

The National Memorial Day Parade began at 2 p.m. on the corner of Constitution Ave. and 7th Street, NW. It proceeded down Constitution and passed the White House before ending at 17th Street. The parade honored those that have served in uniform from the American Revolution to Operation Iraqi Freedom and sought to educate the public about Memorial Day, according to the American Veterans Center, which sponsors the parade.

Aughtman Provides Medical Aid

While on his most recent deployment in Iraq, Staff Sgt. Aughtman was conducting combat patrols and raids to remove high-value targets. On one such mission, he and two other Soldiers in his squad were struck by a grenade. Aughtman said they were driving through a city when a grenade came out of an alley, striking their vehicle. All the Soldiers received various shrapnel wounds, he said.

Aughtman provided emergency aid to two Soldiers and himself, asking the gunner to perform security, before evacuating to their forward operating base.

Though in great danger, Aughtman said he wasn't really scared.

"Instinct just kind of took over," he said, indicating that his training as an emergency medical technician prepared him well. "You're basically just ready for it."

In addition to the Bronze Star, Aughtman was awarded the Purple Heart, but he is modest about the honors.

"I was just doing my job," he said.

Zanders Performs Dangerous Rescue

In April, CWO4 Zanders received a call to assist a combat outpost that was under attack. Zanders, flying a Kiowa Warrior, went to aid the outpost with another Kiowa. Both helicopters engaged in the firefight immediately, but after a few minutes the sister ship took hostile fire and was forced to make an emergency landing.

Zanders, conducting a maneuver that had never been performed in combat, landed beside the other helicopter and indicated the pilot and copilot should strap themselves to the weapons struts of his Kiowa-he would fly them back to the FOB attached to the outside of the helicopter.

The weapons struts are "halfway toward the back, and they stick out," Zanders explained. The Soldiers straddled the weapons struts and secured themselves using their D-rings, he said, and they flew back to the FOB at full speed.

"It was just instinct," Zanders said, "I'm sure any other Kiowa pilot would have done the same."

Zanders received the Distinguished Flying Cross in addition to the Bronze Star for his service, and like Aughtman, he is humble about the accomplishment.

"It's a privilege and an honor," Zanders said, "but to me it was just doing my job."

Parade Marshals

Zanders said he was both happy and surprised to be asked to be a grand marshal. He thought he would just be marching in the parade, instead of being featured on the primary float.

"It was a surprise, I didn't even know I was selected until the last minute, but it was a great honor," he said.

Aughtman was also quite excited. He said being a grand marshal was "pretty cool."

Among the parade guests were Miss America 2008 Kristen Haglund, actors Gary Sinise, Joe Mantegna and Mickey Rooney, baseball hall of fame pitcher Bob Feller and distinguished veterans form World War II to today.

Army floats and participants in the parade line-up included the 307th Army Band, 101st Airborne Division Veterans, 82nd Airborne Division Association and several Army marching platoons.