FORT. MEADE, Md. -- --
The morning skies were sunny and clear Saturday, October 6, 2019, as 655th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Wing, 16th Intelligence Squadron, program manager Staff Sgt. Caldwell (first name withheld) was on his way to the monthly unit training assembly.
Pulling on to the McComas Street ramp to Interstate 95, everything seemed normal until his attention was drawn to a lone figure, a young girl no more than 16 years old, sitting on a barrier along the ramp staring down a 60 to 70 foot drop.
“The girl’s hoodie caught my attention,” Caldwell said. “It was bright turquoise and made her stick out among the gray, brown and white, which surrounded her. Initially, I thought I was seeing things. I thought there was no way a person was sitting on this barrier.”
He immediately pulled over and, after sending a quick notice to his supervisor that he may be a tad late, dialed 911. He got out of his car and, making his way closer, he gave a description of the girl to the dispatcher who informed him that first responders were on the way. Not wanting to startle the girl and aggravate the situation, he decided to return to his car and monitor the situation from there.
When he returned to his car he noticed the girl had climbed off the barrier and was now sitting, huddled up, next to it. He decided there was far less risk involved now and hoped he could help in some way until first responders arrived. He walked to about 10-15 feet away from where she was sitting and started talking to her.
“As I slowly got closer to her I asked, Are you okay? Do you want to talk? Are you cold? I was fairly close to her and was able to finally make out some details. She seemed hysterical and I could see raw wounds on her wrists. Unfortunately, it seemed like my presence made her more upset, so I started walking back to my car and called 911 again.”
While he was on the phone with a dispatcher, a woman and her teenage daughter stopped to help. As soon as they got out of the car, the young girl climbed back onto the barrier. Caldwell then sprang into action, throwing his phone to the woman and running over to pull the girl down. The woman and her daughter followed to help keep the girl from climbing onto the barrier for a third time.
As the first responders arrived, Caldwell waived them down and then stood back as they provided care. One of the firefighters commented to him how the drop would have been fatal had the girl jumped.
“I was not surprised at all to hear that Sergeant Caldwell chose to step into a precarious situation,” said Maj. Shah (first name withheld), 16 IS director of operations. “He clearly embodies what we promote here: recognizing a person in need and making conscious decision to step in and be a force of positivity in that person’s life. He is certainly a great example of who Reserve Citizen Airmen are and what we stand for.”
For his actions, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Derr, 16 IS commander, presented Caldwell with an Air Force Achievement Medal. However, despite the accolades from leadership, his fellow Airmen, the first responders and the woman and her daughter who assured him he did the right thing, he doesn’t view himself as a hero but credits his Air Force training with enabling him to act when needed.
“I like to think that almost any Airman would have done the same thing,” he said. “Learning how to take care of yourself and others and bounce back after a high stress situation is at the heart of resiliency training.”