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Legacy of service, 445th LRS Airman saves truck driver’s life

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --

“We had just finished work,” she paused as she recalled the day. “I was on my way back to my hotel, still in uniform.”  The semitrailer turned too sharply and began to tip over.  She paused for a moment as it happened and then, checking the intersection to make sure it was free of vehicles, she pulled her car across the road to block the lanes off in front of the toppled truck.

“A few people had come out of the stores on the corner of the road and they were trying to climb into the truck to help,” she took a breath, her pace quickening. “I could see the oil on the road all around the semi, it smelled so strong it was like someone had splashed me in the face with it, and I knew we just had to hurry him up and get him out of there.”

Senior Airman Naomi Thomas, 445th Logistics Readiness Squadron materiel management apprentice, immediately responded and assisted in the rescue of a semitrailer driver when his vehicle overturned in Charleston, South Carolina, on Aug. 13, 2019.

“I knew it was go time,” Thomas said. “I was on a time crunch and I had to act.”

Still in her uniform with steel-toe boots, Thomas quickly asked everyone to step back as she kicked in the glass windshield. She removed her operational camouflage pattern (OCP) blouse and laid it over the glass, preparing to assist the driver from the vehicle before discovering that his seatbelt was jammed.

“I ran back to my car to get a knife so that we could cut him free,” Thomas said seriously. “I knew we had to work smarter, not harder, and pulling at it was going to take longer than cutting it.”

Thomas helped the driver, who had sustained minor injuries to his arm and leg, over to her car where she helped to stabilize him until the arrival of emergency personnel.

“I think I get it from my dad,” Thomas said with a smile. “He taught me not to hesitate and just to go into action.”

Thomas’ father also serves in the U.S. Air Force Reserve after an active duty career in the U.S. Marines. She said he was a big part of the reason that she was inspired to serve.

“The Air Force fostered her sense of teamwork and certainly had an impact on the way in which she reacted,” said Senior Master Sgt. Lamon Pace, 445th LRS superintendent. “But that act of courage definitely came from inside her.”

Thomas was completing her seasoning training at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, and will be returning to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for the November unit training assembly.

“Airman Thomas first caught my attention when she made the commitment to commute all the way from Florida for each UTA without hesitation,” said 1st Lt. Anthony Busellato, 445th LRS transportation flight commander. “She then volunteered for seasoning training and almost immediately distinguished herself. From what I know of her, I can't say I'm surprised.”        

While many have called her actions heroic, Thomas doesn’t see it that way.

“I’m not really a hero,” Thomas said. “I just did what I had to do.”

Thomas has been nominated for the Airman’s Medal for her heroic actions and quick response to what could have been a potentially deadly situation.

“It could have gone a completely different way,” she said. “I am just so grateful that everyone came out of this alive.”