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Honor guard member competes for heroism award

DENVER -- Air Force Reserve Command’s nominee for the Air Force Pitsenbarger Award did more than her patriot duty July 4.

Staff Sgt. Shelly Dapp and other members of the Air Reserve Personnel Center Honor Guard were on the outskirts of Denver, returning from a ceremony in South Dakota, when they spotted smoke and liquid fire coming from under a sport utility vehicle.

After Jaquelyn Jimenez, the driver of the burning SUV, pulled over due to engine failure, Sergeant Dapp and another Airman sprung into action.

“We didn’t even think about it,” said Sergeant Dapp. “We just got out and ran to the vehicle.”

They told the driver, who was pregnant and due in less than a week with twins, her vehicle was on fire and to get out. Unable to see inside the vehicle because of tinted windows, they asked her if anyone else was in the SUV. Ms. Jimenez said her two young children were in the backseat.

With flames leaping from under the hood and without regard for their own safety, the other Airman opened the door and took 4-year-old Michael and Sergeant Dapp scooped up 2-year-old Jordan. As they rushed the children to safety, another member of the honor guard dialed 911 on a cell phone.

Seemingly unaware of the severity of what was happening, Ms. Jimenez continued getting personal items and fireworks from the vehicle. The Airmen told her to get away from the vehicle for her own safety. When fire engulfed the vehicle, the front tires, windshield and back glass exploded.

“The inside melted into a puddle,” said Sergeant Dapp.

The sergeant and nominees from other Air Force major commands will learn who receives the heroism award in June or July. The Air Force Sergeants Association, which sponsors the award, will present the award Aug. 3 during its annual convention in Dallas.

The Pitsenbarger Award honors Airman 1st Class William H. Pitsenbarger, killed in action April 11, 1966, while helping soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division outside of Saigon, South Vietnam.