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Staff sgt.'s rapid response saves trainee's life in grenade pit

Apr. 30, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Staff Sgt. Jon King shows a local TV news crew how he saved a trainee from an errant hand-grenade throw at the Sgt. 1st Class Tony Burris Hand Grenade Complex at Fort Sill, Okla.
Staff Sgt. Jon King shows a local TV news crew how he saved a trainee from an errant hand-grenade throw at the Sgt. 1st Class Tony Burris Hand Grenade Complex at Fort Sill, Okla. (Jeff Crawley / Fort Sill (Okla.) Cannoneer)
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After five deployments, including two to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, the last place Staff Sgt. Jon King expected a near-miss was in a grenade-throwing pit at Fort Sill, Okla.

But on April 14, he got one. And his response saved a trainee’s life and could earn him a Soldier’s Medal.

The trainee, with D Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery, attempted to clear the wall of the pit with his first throw of a live grenade. He missed. The grenade ricocheted off the wall and landed on the floor.

With the six-second clock between release and detonation already about a third gone, King entered the pit and tried to grab the grenade.

“On my first attempt, it hit off my foot and it rolled behind me,” King said in an Army Times interview. “I glanced down and he [the trainee] was laying down, petrified.”

“There was no way I was going to lift up that dead weight, him laying there in that pit.”

Faced with abandoning the pit (and the trainee) or trying to beat the clock, King, with C Company, 434th Field Artillery Detachment, reached for the grenade again, this time dropping it over the wall about a second before detonation.

King explained the situation to personnel in the tower at the Sgt. 1st Class Tony Burris Hand Grenade Complex. They asked if he was going to stop training. He wasn’t.

After a brief lecture — “My go-to word is, ‘Are you crazy!’ So I know I said that to him,” King said — a refresher on proper mechanics and a practice throw, the trainee threw his second grenade.

“It didn’t really sink in until ... I was heading home,” said King, 39, who already was on the list for promotion to sergeant first class before the incident. “Being deployed so many times, you come home pretty much unscathed, but you can come home and get tagged with something like that.”

King said he hasn’t received much in the way of notoriety from the incident, though a local news crew had him re-enact the life-saving heroics as part of a report last week. He found out from that TV report that he’d be receiving an Interim Army Commendation Medal for his actions, he said.

The interim award may be upgraded to a Soldier’s Medal, the highest decoration for non-combat valor.

A Soldier’s Medal is not awarded in all non-combat lifesaving situations, per award instructions, but is given out when “the performance ... involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy.”

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