A Brazilian-born U.S. Marine was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. It is the Marine Corps highest non-combat decoration and he was awarded it for for tunneling into the smoldering wreckage of a crashed helicopter in Afghanistan and pulling survivors to safety.
Gunnery Sgt. Geann Pereira, a 33-year-old Marine from Coral Springs, FL, spent hours pulling people, both dead and alive, from a downed aircraft that could have exploded at any moment. The crash took place last year on Oct. 11, 2015 while Pereira was deployed to Camp Resolute Support in Kabul. A British Puma helicopter carrying multinational passengers as part of a NATO mission crashed during a botched landing attempt.
Five people on board were killed, including two American airmen, two British troops and a French contractor. Pereira was the first one on scene and wasted no time in the rescue efforts. He used a pair of bolt cutters to gain access to the mangled helicopter and tunneled into the wreckage to pull out survivors. Pereira remains humble about the incident, he state during the ceremony in his honor:
“I don’t see myself as a hero. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. I happened to be the first person on the scene…Instincts took over”
According to a formal reading of the medal citation Pereira spent hours disappearing into the helicopter and returning with survivors. Marine Brig. Gen. Kevin Iiams, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces South, presided over the event and praised Pereira for displaying “character” and for acting in ways that most people would “pray that we would have the courage to do.”
Pereira claims that he couldn’t have done it with out the support of American and non-american service members that also went to the scene of the crash to help. According to Pereira other service members helped by cutting away debris and performing first-aid for survivors while Pereira was inside the helicopter. He gave credit to his fellow service members during the ceremony by stating:
“I just happened to be the little guy inside the helicopter pulling people out… There were Marines, sailors, airmen, Army, coalition forces out there — and we all came together with one common cause, just to save peoples lives that day. And everyone did a phenomenal job.”
The incident took place in Afghanistan during Periera’s second overseas tour. Before that he did a tour in Iraq in 2008. He currently serves with a Fort Lauderdale unit that supervises Marines that guard U.S. embassies and consulates in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.