Island soldier honored for saving a life
Spc. J.N. Christopher (Chris) Brown II of Oak Bluffs has received the Massachusetts Medal of Merit, the state's highest award, for helping save a woman's life in the wake of an ice storm on December 11.
The storm hit the Worcester and Merrimack Valley areas the hardest, leaving about 350,000 people without power. Gov. Deval Patrick declared a statewide state of emergency the morning of December 12.
As a result, Specialist Brown, who is based at the National Guard Armory in Agawam, was one of nearly 1,500 National Guard troops deployed across the state for "Operation Big Ice." He was working at the Blandford fire station on December 14 when shortly after midnight, an elderly man arrived asking for help for his 71-year-old wife, who was either unconscious or dead on the floor of the garage attached to their home.
PHOTO BY SGT. JAMES LALLY, NGMA
Specialist Brown and fellow National Guardsman 2nd Lt. Brian Shaffer responded to the couple's home with Blandford Fire Chief Michael Rocke. They discovered the woman face down on the garage floor, apparently overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from a gasoline-powered generator running next to her. Specialist Brown assisted Lt. Shaffer and Chief Rocke with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) efforts on the woman, and also helped her husband, who was suffering symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, as well, from fumes that had seeped into the house.
"He was lucky he didn't pass out while driving to the fire station," Specialist Brown said. "When I talked with him, he told me had had been slipping in and out of consciousness since suppertime."
Although Specialist Brown's training as an infantry leader included combat lifesaving, he said his CPR training was more recently updated when he took a first responder class last summer while working as a Chilmark special police officer.
Specialist Brown said he never did find out the couple's names, which were not released in subsequent news reports, but did hear they were recovering.
On December 19, Maj. Gen. Joseph C. Carter, Adjutant General, Massachusetts National Guard, presented Specialist Brown and Lt. Shaffer with the Massachusetts Medal of Merit in a special ceremony in Agawam before their fellow company members.
The Massachusetts Medal of Merit may be awarded to members of the Armed Forces of the Commonwealth, the U.S., or any U.S. state or territory who distinguish themselves by exceptionally meritorious conduct for performing outstanding services in direct support of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The adjutant general and two field grade officers recommend candidates for the medal to the Governor.
When asked if the medal came as a surprise, Specialist Brown said, "Yes. In my mind, we were just really doing our job - it wasn't anything spectacular or out of ordinary, per se - that's what we're trained to do."
Noting General Carter's link to Martha's Vineyard as the former Oak Bluffs Police Chief, Specialist Brown added, "It was definitely a great honor to receive it, and definitely an honor to get it from the general, as well, especially since he is somebody with roots in my home town."
This is not the first time Specialist Brown received commendation for meritorious service. In June 2007, while serving an 18-month tour of duty on a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, he cared for and treated three Ukrainians who were severely injured in a vehicle rollover. His actions earned him an Army Commendation Medal for meritorious achievement as a combat lifesaver.
When reminded of it, Specialist Brown said with a laugh, "I just happen to be around when all the catastrophes happen."
The son of Jim and Deb Brown of Oak Bluffs, Specialist Brown graduated from the regional high school in 2003. He jointed the Army National Guard as a college freshman. He was called up for active duty the summer of 2006 before the start of his junior year, shortly after he began working as a Chilmark special police officer.
After returning home from Kosovo in November 2007, Specialist Brown went back to college for a semester and then worked last summer as a Chilmark special police officer, which he continues to do part-time. He has about one year left in his National Guard commitment.