It is often heard that American Soldiers run towards the sound of danger, not away from it. That seems to be the case for Army civilians as well.
The Civilian Award for Humanitarian Service was presented to Dept. of the Army employee Wanda C. Squirewell by Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington, commanding general of the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington during a ceremony held at Fort McNair portion at Joint Base Myer Henderson Hall, March 20.
Squirewell was pulling into a parking garage in the Rosslyn area of Arlington County, Va., just before midnight July 2, 2011. Her car window was down when she heard screams and saw a woman’s hands holding onto the bottom of the 17th St. Bridge guard rail.
“I didn’t really think about what to do, I just reacted,” said Squirewell. “I parked the car right there on the street, went over to the railing and leaned over to grab the woman before she let go and dropped onto Fort Myer Drive 30 or so feet below her.”
According to Squirewell, the woman must not have really wanted to die, since she didn’t let go of the railing, but she didn’t help in her own rescue either.
“She was obviously conflicted, and I just got the feeling that she really didn’t want to commit suicide, otherwise she would have just let go before I could reach her,” said Squirewell. “I leaned way over the railing using my legs as a counter-balance to try and grab her. I managed to grab the end of the shorts she was wearing, and began to pull her up. When I finally got her shoulders level with the top of the railing, another bystander helped me pull her all the way over the railing. I was exhausted.”
It wasn’t until later that Squirewell learned the woman, in her mid 20s, had recently broken up with her boyfriend. Family members were searching for her that night and heard her screams as well, but couldn’t reach her in time to pull her from the bridge prior to Squirewell doing so.
“Wanda is the type of employee that every supervisor wants on his staff,” said Navy Commander Scott Corrigan, Intelligence Branch supervisor, Operations Directorate, JFHQ-NCR/MDW and Squirewell’s immediate supervisor. “She runs this section when I am not here, and in fact we just recently promoted her based on her superb performance on the job.”
Although not promoted for her life saving actions outside of her duties, Squirewell does claim that her past active duty military training with the U.S. Navy and the training she continues to receive at JFHQ-NCR/MDW is very much responsible for her quick response.
“I didn’t think about how dangerous it was to hang over that railing. I believe the years of training, especially fire-fighting training during my time with the Navy and the many CPR lifesaving classes I have had over the years allowed me to react quickly, and not have to think too much about what to do,” said Squirewell. “Then I just had to give myself some time to process what had happened. I just thank God it went as well as it did.
Squirewell’s command, the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, serves as the Army Forces Component and core staff element of the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region to conduct operations that deter, prevent, and respond to threats aimed at the National Capital Region.
According to Corrigan, having employees like Squirewell on the staff at JFHQ-NCR/MDW, it is no wonder the command is able to accomplish its mission. “She is fantastic,” said Corrigan. “It doesn’t surprise me what she did that night. With her strong dedication to duty, she takes care of us all every day.”