‘Good Samaritan’ SA earns Vanguard Award

  • Published
  • By Wayne Amann
  • OSI Public Affairs

(Editor’s Note: Some of the more graphic details have been omitted.)

When someone is called a hero for their actions, they typically turn modest about what they did, usually saying they were simply doing their job, or just did what they had to do given the circumstances.

Enter Office of Special Investigations Special Agent Patrick Briggs, Senior Polygraph Examiner and Non-Commissioned Officer-In-Charge, 3rd Field Investigations Squadron, Operating Location-F, Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas.

What he did above and beyond the call of duty on Sept. 14, 2020, earned the admiration of the Noncommissioned Officers Association, which named him its Air Force Level winner of the 2021 NCOA Vanguard Award.

The honor is bestowed to an NCO from each military service branch who has performed a heroic act, on or off duty, which results in the saving of life or the prevention of serious injury.

It was mid-afternoon and sunny when SA Briggs, who was driving from Goodfellow to Oklahoma City for temporary duty, saw the wreckage of an overturned civilian passenger bus with 29 people aboard. As one of the first responders, the Good Samaritan within SA Briggs took charge.

“I immediately pulled over and assessed the situation,” SA Briggs recalled. “As I approached, people were climbing out of the bus. Most had a variety of critical injuries and some were being attended to by others who subsequently stopped, so I focused on the screaming inside the bus.”

While some passengers were still inside, other passengers tried to free two individuals pinned underneath.

“I think they fell through windows as the bus fell over on its side,” SA Briggs said. “That’s when a man with a severely injured arm asked me to get him out through the emergency escape hatch, now on its side.”

SA Briggs was reluctant to move anyone, not knowing the extent of their injuries. Instead, he ran to his vehicle for some shirts to use as slings and tourniquets.

“I returned to the man with the badly injured arm and tried to apply a tourniquet when I heard screams of an engine fire,” he said. “I told the man I had to stop and I’d be back ASAP.”

The back of the bus was on fire. A few pedestrians brought small extinguishers, but they were ineffective, so SA Briggs ran down the row of cars now parked along the highway and found a   utility truck with a larger extinguisher on it, raced back to the fire and put it out.

Meanwhile, the man SA Briggs was attending to was removed from the bus and taken care of.

Two people were still pinned, when a man with a tractor on a large trailer said he might be able to lift the bus.

“Three others and I unloaded the tractor from the semi-trailer and brought it to our side of the highway,” SA Briggs said. “We tried to lift the bus enough to free the passengers. Unfortunately, due to the position of the bus, we were unsuccessful. Shortly after our attempt, EMS and fire trucks arrived. They used cutting tools and airbags to free those pinned. The local sheriff and state troopers also showed up. That’s when I pulled back and observed.”

But he wasn’t finished. SA Briggs administered to two accident victims in severe states of shock. He escorted them to his air conditioned car, where they could cool down in the shade. Both were frantic because they knew the people pinned under the bus. SA Briggs sat with them for about 45 minutes, until all the critically injured were air lifted or ambulanced to local hospitals.

“Agent Briggs’ actions at the scene of this horrific bus wreck were nothing short of incredible,” said Lt. Col. James Merenda, 3 FIS commander. “Although he would be the first to tell you that anyone would have done the same, that’s simply not true. Without his quick and decisive action, many families would be grieving today. The 3 FIS family is extremely proud of Agent Briggs. He is a tremendous Airman, Agent and Senior NCO leader.”

The intensity of the accident scene lingers with SA Briggs.

“I continue to be torn about accepting recognition, but try to make it part of my coping process,” he said. “It got to me pretty good for a few months. My wife has been the most encouraging person throughout this, so have some great mentors like SA (Kelly) Luzum, (3 FIS superintendent).”

SA Briggs will be presented his Vanguard Award during the awards banquet at the NCOA’s 57th Annual Conference, July 20-23, in San Antonio, Texas.

According to the NCOA website, the Vanguard Award selections are made via a rigorous nominating and screening process within each of the military services.

The awards commemorate and honor an enlisted Medal of Honor recipient from each branch.

Military service is based on a sense of duty, on the assumption that the common good is more important than the individual.

The actions meriting the receipt of the 2021 NCOA Military Vanguard Awards personify the spirit and intent of this most prestigious recognition.