Robert Schenk

Spotlight on You: Robert Schenk

Retired Airman saves Japanese life

by: Airman 1st Class Delano Scott, 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs | .
Yokota Air Base | .
published: January 23, 2016

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- When we hear about the acts of valor of others, we often try to envision ourselves in their situation and how we might react. We would like to think that we would be handle their situation as well as they had; remaining calm, relying on one's training and ensuring the safety of others even though it might endanger our own life. However, when a dire situation does arise, no one can truly predict how they would react.

Dec. 20, Robert Schenk, 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron installation deployment officer, accompanied by his son and daughter, were driving on a narrow road toward Aoyama, Japan, with plans to sightsee and enjoy the scenery. The road, receiving 9 inches of snow the day prior, had been transformed into a menacing and treacherous path. Black ice hidden under snowfall blanketed the street. Schenk and his family cautiously continued on their journey until they were suddenly frozen in their tracks by the site of what was directly in front of them.

"There was a car flipped over on its side," Schenk recalled. "As soon as I got out of my car to rush over and help, the car's engine burst into flames."

With a 73-year-old Japanese man trapped in his vehicle, the visibly dismal situation instantly became worse. Still, Schenk remained committed to saving the trapped man. Armed with only his wit and the surrounding elements, he rushed to the vehicle and began to toss ice and snow onto the flames.

"With the help of my son and a Japanese citizen who had stopped to help and assist, we fought the fire as best as we could," Schenk said. "While trying to put the fire out, we were also trying to get the door unlocked so that we could pull him out to safety."

But the door wasn't budging. And although the flames had been tamed, the victim's life was still in danger and time was still ticking.

"I jumped on top of the car," Schenk explained. "While balancing myself on the drive shaft, I eventually managed to get the door open. While holding the door open, I pulled the man out of the car and was able to hand him down to the man assisting me."

Although relieved that the victim's life was no longer in immediate danger, Schenk knew there was still work to be done. He tossed his cell phone to his son while still on top of the car and instructed him to dial '119' to get treatment for the victim as well as support for the scene.

The entire time the rescue had been taking place, the road had become very busy.

"The street became a very dangerous scene," Schenk recollected. "On the north side of the road, traffic was billowing on top of a steep hill. Because the road was still slick from the ice and snow, getting traffic moving safely was imperative in order to avoid any more accidents."

Schenk grabbed a blanket from his car and handing it to the victim to keep him warm. Schenk then worked with his son to direct traffic until the first responders showed up roughly 10 minutes later.

Schenk, a retired Master Sergeant with 24 years of service, acknowledged that the training he received throughout his military career helped prepare him for this situation.

"I didn't know how I was going to react," he admitted. "But the survival training, first-aid training and other skills that I received when I was an Airman never went away. I trusted in training and my natural instincts to guide me in that predicament."

After the first responders had arrived and took control the scene, Schenk was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. But before Schenk and his family left the scene, the victim, Nakagawara Kazuyoshi, rushed over to the family's car to thank them for saving his life.

"He was extremely grateful for our actions, but I was just happy that I was able to help," Schenk said.

Schenk put himself in danger for a man whom he'd never met before. He couldn't have predicted how the incident would play out, but by relying on the values and training he received in the Air Force, Schenk responded quickly and without hesitation to the crash. If Schenk's story implies anything, training today can mean a life saved tomorrow.

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