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Navy veteran recognized for his heroic citizenship

A Sailor assigned to the guided missile frigate USS Vandegrift (FFG 48) was recognized Nov.7 during an awards ceremony aboard the ship for his role in helping victims of an automobile accident that occurred last month in neighboring Chula Vista, Calif.

Master-at-Arms 1st Class (SW/AW) Michael Sanders, a Vandegrift crew member and native of Pensacola, Fla., received the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his role in helping to extricate three children and their mother from an overturned minivan following a collision with a San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) special needs vehicle that occurred Oct. 14.

Both Sanders and his wife, who also attended the ceremony, said they have vivid memories of that day and it's not something that we will ever forget.

Last Columbus Day, Sanders and his wife were jogging when they discovered the accident shortly after 9 a.m.

"There was a vehicle overturned on its side," said Sanders. "It was a van and I was unsure of how many people were inside it, so I rushed across the street to assess the situation."

Upon inspecting the van, Sanders said he saw the three injured children and their mother inside and started working to get them out of the damaged vehicle.

"I told the older brother that he had to help me get his sister out of the seat," said Sanders. "So he handed her up to me so we could get her out of the vehicle."

Sanders said he also directed another bystander to remove his shirt and apply direct pressure to stop the bleeding from a head wound on one of the children.

"The mother was complaining that her side was hurting," said Sanders. "So we waited until the paramedics got on scene to help get her out of the vehicle."

Sanders and his wife then helped to calm the children until emergency medical service personnel arrived on the scene. The mother and all three children, along with one passenger from the MTS vehicle, were transported to a local hospital following the accident.

A 10-year Navy veteran, Sanders said he credits his Navy training with knowing what to do in an emergency situation like the one both he and his wife experienced that morning and that he had undergone initial first responder training during a tour in Souda Bay, Greece.

"I was also a part of the special response team in Guam where we worked hand-in-hand with the fire department, corpsmen, EOD [explosive ordnance disposal] and Homeland Security," he said.

Vice Adm. Thomas H. Copeman III, Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, made the presentation during an awards ceremony held on ship's flight deck.

"Petty Officer Sanders had the good fortune ... to be at the right place at the right time to help a family out," said Copeman. "I think it's emblematic of all of our Sailors in the Navy, and in the armed forces in general, to exemplify the value we call courage, which is one of our Navy core values."

Copeman said it was an honor to take part in ceremonies recognizing local Sailors for their quick actions during emergency situations. In June, he attended a ceremony to recognize two Sailors from the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG 63) for their lifesaving efforts following a devastating EF-5 tornado that struck the city of Moore, Okla.

Vandegrift is homeported at Naval Base San Diego. The ship and crew are participating the basic phase of the fleet's training cycle in preparation for future operations