Staff Sgt. Bret Perry was raised to help those in need.
He keeps a tow rope in his truck (in case a motorist needs pulled out of a ditch), and he never hesitates to engage when encountering a dicey situation.
It's a good thing, too. Bad things keeps happening to people in his vicinity, and he keeps saving the day.
Last week, the Iowa recruiter received a Soldier's Medal for breaking into a burning house last summer (and going back inside twice more) to save the lives of residents inside.
And while the deed stands on its own, the award could have been a lifetime achievement award. Perry once saved off-duty soldiers in Italy when he jumped into an in-progress, bloody brawl.
And only months ago he pulled a baby and mother out of a smoking overturned car.
Perry said he's "honored and humbled" to be associated with the Soldier's Medal. He doesn't know how he ends up in dangerous situations so often, but said he's a Christian and he believes things happen for a reason.
"My dad always told me, 'you're going to end up in a movie the guy who dies trying to help somebody,'" the former scout sniper with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team told Army Times.
The hometown soldier's ability to be in the right place at the right time to help people bemuses and impresses his co-workers.
"He's a local hero. He keeps saving lives over here," said 1st Sgt. Fernando Martinez said of his fellow-recruiter with the Des Moines recruiting company. "He's always the first to stand up to help with anything, no matter what…when you talk about selfless service, that's him."
Staff Sgt. Bret Perry broke into this burning Iowa house last August to rescue three people inside. The fire was threatening to descend upon the bedroom door of one of the residents sleeping in her room when Perry broke the locked door down to wake her.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Staff Sgt. Bret Perry
'I'm sure she was pretty shocked'
Last August, less than two miles from the end of his morning commute to his office in Urbandale, Perry noticed an intense plume of smoke. With 15 minutes before he was due at work, his curiosity prompted him to swing by a house that turned out to be just a block off his route.
"When coming around the corner, you expect to see fire trucks everywhere. But it was dead," he said.
Cars in the driveway suggested people may be home; a neighbor tapping on the window would agree. Perry got out of his truck and ran to the door, pounding as hard as he could to alert anyone inside, and hollering to get out of the house.
He decided he had to get into the house, and got a gentle shove: the fire caused some damage to power lines over him, and some sparks rained down on him.
"It kind of encouraged me to get into the house," Perry said. "[Breaking through the door] took me like three tries."
The former community college football player who's since dabbled in rugby finally broke through the door, but then tumbled down half a flight of stairs in the split-level home. The neighbor followed him in and helped him up.
Perry went back upstairs to the upper of the two levels, and told the neighbor to check downstairs. The fire, burning through the roof, had filled the upper level with smoke so Perry had to low-crawl through the main room to a locked bedroom door clearly threatened by the fire coming through the roof. He broke that door down too, and found a young adult woman.
"She was completely sleeping…I'm sure she was pretty shocked," Perry said. "She posted something on Facebook like: 'Some badass army guy kicked in my door and shattered it all to pieces. Best surprise I've ever seen,' or something like that."
After escorting her out, he entered the house twice more. He encountered a similar-aged woman in the main room upstairs during round two. He eventually helped the neighbor escort a young man out that had been on the lower level during the third trip.
A pet remained unaccounted for. But by that time, the house was too hot and smoky to re-enter; the fire chief had arrived at that point and told him not to go in again.
At some point during the ordeal, Perry hurt his ring finger badly enough that he still can't straighten it today.
Staff Sgt. Bret Perry, left, poses during a deployment to Afghanistan. Now a recruiter, he served as a sniper in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Italy.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Perry
During another commute months later, Perry chanced into another rescue mission. While taking a route home he'd "never ever" taken before, he found himself behind two vehicles with no others in sight. The front vehicle lost control and rolled repeatedly into a snowy ditch. He said the car in front of him swerved to avoid that car but kept going. He stopped immediately.
As he ran down into the ditch with knee-deep snow, he heard screaming; a woman was trapped in her SUV, which came to rest on its side with the driver-side door up. After climbing on top of the vehicle, he couldn't get the driver's door open so he opened the rear driver-side door. The woman was yelling that she had a baby in the back seat.
"I was like 'oh, no.' I immediately left her, and went in search of the baby," he said. "It was dark out. I couldn't really see."
He squirmed into the vehicle, terrified because he didn't hear a baby making any sound. He felt the baby's face in the dark, unbuckled the entire car seat, and pulled the seat out of the vehicle, still scared of what he'd find.
"As soon as that cold air hit her she started crying," he said, relieved.
He took the baby to a motorist who had just stopped at the scene to get the baby out of the cold, and went back for the mother. The car was starting to smoke at this point, he said, so he wiggled back into the car, unbuckled the mother and helped her out. She suffered only scratches and bruises, he said. Martinez said his battalion commander gave him an Army Achievement Medal, in part because a Soldier's Medal from the fire was already in the works.
Staff Sgt. Bret Perry poses with his wife Jessie after he returned home from a 2007-08 deployment to Afghanistan.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Jessie Perry
Police arrive 'when I knocked this guy out'
Years before his Iowa heroics, Perry had already been recommended for off-duty valor while stationed in Italy in 2006. He's not sure what happened to that award recommendation.
Perry was walking his wife through downtown Vicenza. He saw a fight had broken out that involved a broken bottle. He heard "help" calls in English, though it wasn't until later he learned the two injured men were also U.S. soldiers; the other men in the fight turned out to be Eastern Europeans in Italy illegally. He didn't know exactly how the fight started.
He saw one American lying on the ground and bleeding; another was actively being stabbed in the neck with a broken bottle by a man on top of him. As he intervened, Perry managed to shatter the bottle to stop the stabbing. It cut up his hand but he continued to fight off the assailant.
"The Carabinieri (Italian military police) showed up right when I knocked this guy out." Since all they saw was Perry sock the assailant, he spent five days locked up while the Army worked to get him out.
Both soldiers survived substantial injuries, and a colonel told him he'd be recommended for a Soldier's Medal, he said.