SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The July 4th holiday had been fun for Senior Airman Gil Campos and Airmen 1st Class Juan Vanegas and Chris Leon. After spending the day in Dallas watching an FC Dallas professional soccer game, they had made the two-hour drive back to Wichita Falls and Sheppard Air Force Base, where the trio are stationed.
The end of the day feeling was quickly replaced with a sense of urgency and duty when the three spotted a vehicle just off a local freeway that had crashed and was on fire.
"Chris (Leon) was driving and saw the accident first," said Vanegas, an awards and decorations technician with the 82nd Force Support Squadron. "We pulled over right away and jumped out of the car and ran as fast as we could to the car hoping nobody was inside."
While Vanegas and Leon were in a dead sprint to the burning car, Campos, 82nd FSS personnel systems manager, dialed 9-1-1 to get emergency services support to the scene as quickly as possible.
As soon as Vanegas and Leon, a knowledge operations manager with the 982nd Training Group, got close to the vehicle, they realized their worst fears were coming true.
"We saw a female sitting in the front seat looking dazed and in a semi-conscious state," Leon said. "Juan (Vanegas) helped me get her out of the car. After that we made sure we got her out of danger's way as the tires began to explode and the fire began expanding underneath the hood of the car."
The woman in the car, Christine Cooper, was in shock and hurt.
"I was just sitting there in the car," Cooper said. "My mind was clouded with pain and I didn't realize I needed to get away from the car."
She vaguely remembers being removed from the vehicle and whisked to safety by the Airmen.
When Cooper regained her sense of awareness, she was lying approximately 100 feet away from her car, which was engulfed in flames and listening to a voice telling her everything was going to be ok and that help was on the way.
The voice she remembers as "strong, reassuring...safe". The voice belonged to Leon, who made sure to keep Cooper occupied while Vanegas helped treat her for shock symptoms.
Cooper also suffered a broken right wrist and a leg injury in the accident.
On Oct. 19, the three Airmen and Cooper got the opportunity to meet each other for the first time since the night of the accident.
"They (the Airmen) were very polite and respectful," Cooper said. "I thanked them for saving my life. Nobody goes up to burning cars and saves people, but they did."
Once she found out the three men who had helped her were Airmen at Sheppard, Cooper said it all made sense.
"My grandfather retired from Sheppard," she said. "Once I found out those men were military, I knew right away why they did it. Their training, their instincts...that's what makes this nation and our military so great."
The Airmen were equally excited to meet Cooper.
"It's wonderful that she's doing so well and recovering," Campos said. "We're happy that everything has worked out for the best."