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Airman protects lives, receives medal

Photo of Airman getting congratulated by commander.

Col. Dan Walls, left, 23d Wing commander, congratulates Tech. Sgt. Johnathan O’Connor, 23d Operations Support Squadron NCO in charge of the combat intelligence cell, during a medal presentation Aug. 19, 2020, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. O’Connor received a commendation medal for responding to a house fire and saving multiple lives. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Erick Requadt)

Photo of Airman saluting a commander.

Tech. Sgt. Johnathan O’Connor, right, 23d Operations Support Squadron NCO in charge of the combat intelligence cell, salutes Col. Dan Walls, 23d Wing commander, during a medal presentation Aug. 19, 2020, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. O’Connor received a commendation medal for responding to a house fire and saving multiple lives. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Erick Requadt)

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

Late in the evening of early May, one Airman jumped into action, remembering his training, after spotting the luminous flash of a burning house in Valdosta, Georgia.

Tech. Sgt. Johnathan O’Connor, 23d Operations Support Squadron NCO in charge of the combat intelligence cell, responded without hesitation, saved two lives and received an Air Force Commendation Medal to commend his efforts.

“[O’Connor’s] selfless actions are indicative of what the military stands for,” said Lt. Col. Jordan Hrupek, 23d OSS commander. “Putting others before yourself, putting your safety on the line to ensure the safety of others who may not be able to look out for themselves — that is our call as members of a uniformed service. It shows that he is truly a selfless American citizen and [Airman]. Regardless of what the situation calls for, all Airmen must be ready to respond. O’Connor went above and beyond what was required, or even expected, of an average citizen and delivered for the community in their time of need.

“[His heroism] shows to everyone that he cares, that if he sees people in need he will do whatever it takes to ensure those people are protected and helped,” Hrupek continued. “With personnel like O’Connor, I know our squadron’s mission will be accomplished and it will be done at a high level. His personal drive and character is aligned with the Air Force core values and he is a model of what every Airman in every organization should aspire to be. You don’t know when your nation will call on you to be extraordinary, and it doesn’t have to be in a combat situation; you just need to be able to step up like O’Connor did and perform.”

Recounting the incident, O’Connor explained that having stepped outside of his house to take a phone call, he observed a small guest house was engulfed in flames, and it had spread to an adjacent tree line.

“I saw what at first I thought was somebody having a campfire, but it looked a little too bright, so I walked closer towards it and saw a tree actually catch on fire,” O’Connor said. “I ran over to it while calling 911. That's when I saw it was actually a guest house that was on fire.”

As the fire department arrived, O’Connor evacuated an elderly couple from the main house and alerted the surrounding neighbors.

“After seeing the situation, [and with no one in the guest house], I ran to the main house, woke up the couple and got them out,” O’Connor said. “By the time the police showed up, I was knocking on other people's doors to wake them up because their houses were close. The couple had a bunch of wood, tools and flammable items that were close to the fire, so I helped get all of it out of the path of the fire.

“By this time, two trees were now fully on fire as well as the guest house itself,” O’Connor added. “A couple minutes later, the fire department showed up. Then I spoke with the police and asked if there was any other information they need from me because it was time to get out of the way so the fire department could do their job.”

Where situations like these can cause untrained people to panic, O’Connor explained how his Air Force training actually prepared him for this.

“In times like these, it's important to take your emergency preparedness training seriously,” O’Connor said. “I was not expecting to walk outside and see a house on fire. That's the kind of training I was relying on, running through how you're supposed to respond to these emergencies. It was about taking it one step at a time.

“Without training, I probably would have still called 911, but I might not have thought about the other steps to take,” O’Connor added. “It is entirely possible that it could have had a different outcome. It definitely proves that the training works and that this training can literally save lives.”

O’Connor received a decoration for going beyond the call of duty, but, for him, it is more about a desire to help his fellowman, an honor he shares with many.

“This is a medal that I share with the police, the fire department and the people who showed up to help,” said O’Connor. “I might be the one who received the award, but there's plenty of people who helped make all this happen. Where it does feel good to be recognized, I definitely know that there were a lot of people who made it so that no one was hurt.”