FORT BRAGG, N.C. – Countless hours of training ensures that a Paratrooper knows what to do when lives are in danger. Most expect to have to exercise that training in combat, where bullets, rockets and bombs threaten the lives of their brothers and sisters-in-arms. Sometimes though, disaster strikes at home and a U.S. Army soldier is particularly equipped to respond. One Falcon paratrooper has proven he can be counted on when the going gets tough.
Spc. Michael D. Parmelee, an infantryman assigned to the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, received the Soldier’s Medal during a ceremony held Nov. 26. He was recommended for the award for rushing to the rescue of two people inside of a burning vehicle while he was home on leave. The Soldier’s Medal recognizes a soldier that has performed an act of heroism not involving conflict with an enemy.
Parmelee, 23, is from Hillsboro, Ore., and joined the Army in January 2011. During Basic Combat Training he volunteered to go to Airborne School and within weeks of graduating, found himself on his way to Iraq. There, he served as a machine gunner during vehicle convoys and dismounted patrols.
Watching movies and playing Soldier as a child, he knew he always wanted to join the military. He is an avid snowboarder and four-wheeler and professes to need excitement in his job to be happy. He found that excitement with the 82nd Airborne Division and loves the thrill of being a paratrooper.
“I don’t want a typical job,” he said. “We do awesome stuff here and I need that.”
Parmelee said he’s always had a love for adventure and danger, but only realized the fragile nature of life as a senior in high school when he lost his mother.
“People always say to not take life for granted, but that’s when it really hit me,” he said.
For this reason, he said he strives to make the most of his own life. He flies back to Oregon whenever he can to spend time with his father and the younger brother with whom he shares an interest in adventurous hobbies.
It was on one such vacation back home that he ran into danger to rescue a stranger from a car that was engulfed in flames.
Parmelee was driving down the street in Beavertown when he saw a semi-truck in his rear-view mirror rapidly approaching an intersection without slowing down. The truck sideswiped him and barreled into the intersection during a red light. The truck ran over the hood of a car crossing the intersection and the trailer crushed the trunk.
Parmelee said he could see gasoline spraying through the air and in moments, the wrecked car was burning with its two occupants still inside the cab.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” he said. “Nothing was moving; it felt as though time had stopped.”
He said he was surprised that people either sat in their vehicles or simply stood staring.
Racing over to the burning car, Parmelee said he thought to himself, “Why isn’t anyone helping those people?”
The woman in the passenger seat only sat and screamed in shock. Parmelee cut his arm on jagged glass as he reached inside to open the door. He recalled screaming at the conscious driver to get himself out of the wreckage. Cradling the woman, he rushed her off of the road and away from the burning car. As he turned and ran to the vehicle again, deputies had arrived and extracted the driver who had been sitting dazed and unmoving.
“When nobody’s doing anything, you have to be the one to do something,” he said.
It wasn’t until later that Parmelee discovered he’d been burned on the back of his neck. He was treated by emergency medical personnel but declined to go to the hospital. For days after the wreck, reporters attempted to talk to him, even going as far as to call his friends and leave business cards in the door of his home. He talked briefly with a couple of reporters but chose to avoid a lot of attention.
“I have a hard time talking about myself,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t even like getting a lot of attention at work for good reasons.”
While he says he’s never been the type of person that is afraid to do what he must to help people in need, he attributes his military training and experience for his ability to think and stay calm under pressure. Since joining, he said he has become better at making the right decisions quickly.
His superiors agree that Parmelee can be counted on and said he was often chosen for difficult roles and duties because of his strength, trustworthiness, and his never quit attitude.
“No matter how heavy the load, how bad the weather, and how tough the mission, I never heard a complaint from him,” said 1st Lt. Joshua Clayton, an infantry officer and Parmelee’s platoon leader at the time of the crash. “Because of these traits he possesses, he is well-liked and respected by his peers and leadership.”
He always shouldered his load and if someone else was struggling, he’d take some of theirs too, said Clayton.
The young officer said he wasn’t surprised by Parmelee’s actions.
“Just like he would leap into action and sacrifice his well being for his platoon-mates in the line of duty, he would do so for anyone that was in need of help,” said Clayton.
At the award ceremony, Parmelee’s battalion commander echoed many of Clayton’s sentiments. The young Paratrooper listened as he sat among many senior officers and noncommissioned officers of the division. He sat rigidly and was obviously uncomfortable as he waited for his turn to address the nearly 200 paratroopers attending his award ceremony. All too quickly, the time arrived and Parmelee took center stage.
He stood sharply at attention as the award was pinned to his uniform. He shook the general’s hand, saluted smartly, and waited for the applause to die. Then he strode up to the podium.
Everyone’s attention was on him: the single thing that he admits makes him nervous. However, his voice was strong as he thanked the ceremony’s attendees and expressed his appreciation for the award.
"It's an honor for me to accept such an award for my actions that day, but I honestly do believe everyone in here would do the exact same thing,” he said. “I was in the right place at the right time."
He closed his speech with a thunderous “Airborne!” and walked away from the podium. Enthusiastic applause followed him.
At present, Parmelee confesses that he is undecided about his plans for the future. He has excelled in his few years of service, earning the Expert Infantryman Badge and becoming promotable for the rank of sergeant in less than three years of service.
However, he said he does miss Oregon and his family’s country home. What he does know for sure is that his dream job is to fly helicopters. Whether he flies them for the Army or as a civilian remains uncertain.
Parmelee offered some advice for those interested in military service.
“If you’re going to do the Army, go airborne,” he said with a smile.