An Army captain was recently awarded the service’s highest non-combat heroism medal for helping two people after a nasty car accident.
Capt. Jacob Riffe — a 29-year-old current operations officer with the 264th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command — was given the Soldier’s Medal for heroism during a March 22 ceremony at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“I was pretty fortunate to be there in the right time and place to help all those people,” Riffe told Army Times.
In April 2018, Riffe and his then-5-year-old son were traveling from Fort Lee, Virginia, to Fort Bragg on I-95 when he noticed a car “kind of acting strange.”
His suspicion about that car was confirmed when it suddenly darted across the highway over an embankment on the side of the road and crashed into a farm fence. Riffe said he immediately pulled over and told his son to stay in the car while he went to assess the situation.
The first thing Riffe noticed was that a fire had started in the car’s engine department. He then realized that there were two people still in the car, one an elderly man and the other his caretaker.
Riffe said he got the elderly man out of the car first, and then helped his caretaker out of the passenger-side door because her door was pinned by a tree. There was a lot of smoke coming from the car at that point and the surrounding trees and brush had also caught fire, so he got them both a safe distance away from the car just in case it exploded.
It turned out that the caretaker had taken some medication that caused her to black out while behind the wheel, Riffe said. Though the car was totaled, the two escaped with just a few bumps and bruises.
Riffe said the situation “felt like a call to me” because he would have probably been at his destination already if it weren’t for a 20-minute gas station stop.
“We just got back on the road and saw this car acting weird and seeing everything unfold it was just like, I have to go help these people in any way I can,” he said.
A sergeant at Fort Lee suggested to Riffe that his good deed might be “Soldier Medal-worthy” after hearing about his weekend.
It turned out it was, and he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal by Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C.
For Riffe, receiving this honor was particularly cool because he can now say he got the same award as famous figures like former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was given the Soldier’s Medal for his actions during a helicopter crash in Vietnam.
“I felt like I was doing something normal and just trying to help my fellow man,” he said. “And being recognized for it was a humbling experience.”