According to the United States Army, the Soldier’s Medal is awarded to “any person of the armed forces who, while serving in any capacity with the Army, distinguished themselves with heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy.”
On January 22, Sergeant 1st Class Jaime Herrera — a soldier with the 181st Multi-Functional Training Brigade at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin — did just this.
The rescue began not long after the soldier, who’s been serving for 19 years, arrived at a frozen lake at Mirror Lake State Park to go ice fishing with his family.
“I did my usual checks, such as making sure the ice was thick enough and safe. At the same time, I noticed a man and his daughter who were about 100 yards to my east fishing in an area known for trouble,” he recalled.
Trouble, unfortunately, reared its ugly head.
Herrera heard distress. Yelling.
He turned to notice the man and his daughter both, suddenly, in the water.
Bryan Huinker and 10-year-old Hattie Huinker, who were drifting apart from one another.
His fiancee accompanied him to the scene. Their son ran to call 911.
The career soldier got onto the lake, but on his stomach, to disperse the impact of his body. Then, courageously, he got into the frigid water.
This from the Army Times:
At first, Herrera could not get Hattie out as the thin ice kept breaking around them. He then found an area where his feet could touch the bottom of the lake and he pushed Hattie out.
“Because the ice was only two inches or less where they went through, as I was trying to lift us out, the ice kept breaking under us,” Herrera said. “Realizing we were not getting out together … and using my legs to push up, I was able to get her out of the water.”
Lord had been trying to reach Herrera and Hattie with a rope and had fallen through the ice too.
“While I was rescuing the little girl, Sabrina was heading to me with the rope to assist me and as she approached my location, she fell through the ice and began to encounter the same situation with not being able to climb out due to thin ice,” Herrera said.
With his legs starting to fail from the cold, Herrera used his fists to break through thin ice until reaching ice thick enough to prop himself out of the water. He then ran to his ice sled, cutting the pull rope to use in rescuing Lord.
“I crawled back to her, tossed her the rope, and assisted her in getting back to safe ice,” Herrera said. “I then walked Sabrina off of the ice while at the same time yelling and trying to motivate [Bryan Huinker],” he added.
Huinker was able to get himself out of the water, as emergency responders arrived to the scene.
“I got my kids into our truck, Sabrina to the ambulance, and waited for [Bryan] to get off the ice before being seen by the emergency personnel,” Herrera said.
“I was treated for frostbite and mild hypothermia at the scene and released. I lost sensitivity in three of my left hand fingertips, due to them being in the water holding the little girl for an extended period of time. I spent around 20 minutes in the water,” he added.
“I think service members have a natural ‘call to action’ mentality,” the hero said.
“Otherwise, why would we be in the service to begin with?”