JBER Soldier Receives Soldier’s Medal

A JBER soldier was awarded the highest military honor for an act of heroism in a non-war setting today.

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Sgt. 1st Class Kerns. Photo courtesy U.S. Army.
Sgt. 1st Class Kerns. Photo courtesy U.S. Army.

Sergeant 1st Class John Kerns recieved the Soldier’s Medal for pulling a man from a burning car after it crashed and before it exploded a few moments later.

A paratrooper with the 4th Infantry Brigade combat team, 25th infantry division, Kerns was driving on interstate 95 near the Virginia/North Carolina state line in 2011, when he saw a car veer off the highway and crash into trees.

Kerns ran to the upside down vehicle. He says the doors were locked but most of the glass was broken out of the burning, but still running, mangled car. The driver was incapacitated and the seat belts would not release.

“I had to physically cut his seat belt off and pull him from the front seats of the car, into the back of the car to pull him out,” Kerns said.

Kerns says he doesn’t remember making any deliberate decisions about what he should do. But it was clear the car was going to explode.

When I was pulling him out the flames were already coming around the side of the hood, the front of the car was already engulfed. And when I opened the other door to pull him out, I was asking for help from some of the other people there,” Kerns said. “There was a Federal Express employee and there was another person approached. When the tires started to pop, that was the end of my help, they disbursed.”

The last thing Kerns did before getting clear of the burning car, was grab the man’s cell phone.

“I remember thinking to myself, this guy’s had a pretty bad day, the only thing that’s going to make it worse was to lose all those phone numbers,” Kerns said.

Kerns says the man was convulsing when he reached the car and he suspects that he was having a seizure that probably caused the crash. But it’s unlikely that he’ll ever know for sure. He found out from the hospital that the man was recovering, but he never found out who he had saved.

The Soldier’s Medal is awarded only for saving a life without regard to losing your own.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 18 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications with veteran Alaskan broadcasters Nellie Moore, D’Anne Hamilton, Len Anderson, Sharon McConnell and Veronica Iya. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori