Louisiana National Guard Capt. Andrew Gremillion had just pulled off the road while driving near Ascension Parish’s New River Canal in February 2014 when he heard the splash.
His wife, Laura Gremillion, recalled taking their 7-year-old son’s hand, and when she turned around, she saw the guardsman rushing toward the water where a small, gray vehicle was bobbing in the current.
Andrew Gremillion dove into the canal and clasped onto the car’s bumper. He was able to make his way to a window and pull the driver out and to safety. The driver had been yelling about her grandchildren, so Gremillion jumped in the water again, Laura Gremillion recounted.
The rescued woman apparently was confused and had dropped off the children before crashing, but Andrew Gremillion didn’t leave the canal until he was sure no one else was in danger.
For his life-saving action, the guardsman on Friday was presented with the Soldier’s Medal, the Army’s highest noncombat award.
Col. Pete Schneider believes it is the first time in its 89-year history the honor has been bestowed on a member of the Louisiana National Guard. The first two soldiers to receive the medal also saved a woman from drowning, he remarked.
At the award ceremony, Gremillion, who has served in Afghanistan and has worked 11 years for the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, deflected attention. He said he is glad to hear his son tell people he had saved a woman’s life but reminds the boy that service members and law enforcement officers work to protect lives every day.
“The people that wear these uniforms, it’s just what they do,” he said. “I was fortunate enough that I was in a position to help a very nice lady in a not very nice situation.”
Others in attendance Friday were eager to praise the captain, though.
“Andy serves the country with distinction and honor. … His entire career earned him a Soldier’s Medal,” said Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis, the adjutant general for the Louisiana National Guard.
Maj. Eric Stiller, Gremillion’s commander, nominated him for the award, calling the captain a professional and a family man, “the kind of person you want on your team.”
It took about 11/2 years for the award to come through because it is vetted by both the National Guard and the U.S. Army, Stiller said.
Nationwide, only about 175 Soldier’s Medals have been awarded since 2001, Schneider said.
Past recipients include Colin Powell and, more recently, Alek Skarlatos, the Oregon National Guardsman who stopped a terrorist attack on a French train in August.
To be eligible for the Soldier’s Medal, service members must have performed an act that “involved personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy,” according to the official description.
Stiller said that after reviewing the case and listening to the 911 tapes, Gremillion clearly qualified.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.