Dressed in Coast Guard blue and not Army green Capt. Matthew Miller stood before a crowd of 1st Special Forces troops at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Aug. 22 to present Sgt. 1st Class Mark Emmi with a United States Coast Guard Certificate of Valor.
Miller, the Chief of Staff of U.S. Coast Guard District 13, described Emmi as a natural-born leader who acted instinctively and without regard for his own safety in June 2010 when he helped rescue a man trapped in a vehicle in the Nisqually River. The man, who had fallen asleep while driving, plunged his vehicle over a steep ravine in Mount Rainier National Park where it landed upside down in the chilly, swift-moving water.
As Emmi and his friends were leaving the park near Ashford, Wash., they noticed a man who was frantically waving his arms for help.
After seeing the car in the river and quickly formulating a rescue plan, Emmi rigged a rope and scaled down the ravine into the river 40 feet below. After reaching the vehicle and realizing the doors would not open, Emmi broke the back window of the vehicle with a rock, which allowed a park ranger to help the driver out. Emmi then assisted both the ranger and the rescued driver to shore safely, where he helped administer basic first aid until emergency medical services arrived. Remarkably, a news crew covering another story nearby passed the accident scene while the rescue took place and caught it on camera.
The award is unique since the recognition crosses branches of the military Emmi is an Army service member, but jurisdiction of all rivers in the area belongs to the Coast Guard.
Emmi received an Army Soldiers Medal in 2011, the highest noncombat-related medal attainable by a service member. The Certificate of Valor is the second-highest lifesaving award given by the Coast Guard. Emmi was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, and several Special Forces training missions further delayed the presentation of the Coast Guard award.
That didnt matter to Emmi or Miller though, who said that Emmis courage in the face of danger that day underscored the Coast Guards motto of Semper Paratus, which means Always Ready.
This is a trait you cannot train a person to have. He isnt a hero necessarily because of his actions, I think hes a hero because of his character his courage to do the right thing and to do it without hesitation, Miller said.