By J.D. Hardesty
San Francisco District
Not all military awards for bravery are earned in combat. On Sept. 5, Maj. Adam J. Czekanski received the Soldier’s Medal for leaping in front of an oncoming train to rescue a man who had fallen on the tracks. The Soldier’s Medal is the highest U.S. Army award given for valor in a non-combat situation.
Czekanski, deputy commander of San Francisco District, commutes from his home in Moraga, California, to San Francisco on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). BART is the fifth busiest heavy rail transit system in the U.S., with an average of 670,000 passengers weekly.
As Czekanski arrived at the Orinda Rail Station platform on Jan. 24, he saw a flashing light that indicated the San Francisco-bound commuter train was arriving at the station.
“As I stepped off the escalator onto the platform, I saw a man lean forward and fall onto the tracks,” said Czekanski, 37. “No one moved, so I yelled, ‘Stop the train’ and threw my backpack to the ground and jumped onto the tracks, waving my arms to get the train operator’s attention.”
Fearing that the train wouldn’t stop in time, Czekanski pulled the unconscious man under the lip of the platform.
According to BART Police reports, Monique Marshall was operating the train as it approached the Orinda Station from the north. She told police that she “saw a black jacket fall onto the track from the platform” and hit the emergency stop button stop the train. Marshall realized that there were two persons on the tracks and the “jacket” was actually a person who was lying on his back.
Once the train stopped, Czekanski yelled for someone to call 911 and administered first aid, ensuring the victim’s airways were clear, and turned him on his side to evaluate the bloody gash on his head caused by his fall onto the tracks. Another rider jumped onto the tracks to assist until first responders from the Orinda Fire Department arrived and placed the injured passenger, Adrian Malagon, onto a stretcher for transport to John Muir Hospital.
Malagon told BART Police that he only remembers regaining consciousness in the ambulance and nothing before his fall onto the tracks. Malagon could not be reached for further comment.
Czekanski has served in the Army for 16 years, including two combat tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq where he earned three Bronze Star medals and a Purple Heart. When asked how his military experience helped him respond to this emergency, Czekanski said, “a lot of military training focuses on making quick decisions...I’m sure it helped. I saw a person in danger who was unable to help himself. So, I helped him because, to me, it was the right thing to do. I would hope someone would do the same for me.”
For Czekanski’s courage and quick decision that day, his former division and district commanders, Brig. Gen. C. David Turner and Lt. Col. John K. Baker, recommended him for the Soldier’s Medal. The medal was awarded Sept. 5 at San Francisco District Headquarters. About 75 Czekanski’s coworkers and family members attended the ceremony.
“We recognize a true hero,” said Lt. Col. John C. Morrow, San Francisco District commander. “Major Czekanski is a hero because what he did back in January, a lot of people would not have done. He had a split second to make a life-and-death decision, risking his own life to save a total stranger. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
During the ceremony, Brig. Gen. Mark Toy, commander of South Pacific Division, said that the Soldiers Medal is a rare award. He said this was the first time in his 27-year military career that he has seen a Soldier’s Medal presented, and that in the past few decades more Silver Stars have been awarded than Soldier’s Medals.
“What would you do in a similar circumstance,” Toy asked during at the presentation. “What would you do if you saw a man in trouble, if you saw a man unconscious on the train tracks and you knew that the only way to save this man is to risk your own life? What would you do?
“Luckily, Adam Czekanski knew what to do,” Toy said. “What he did is an incredible act of heroism as he jumped in front of the train, risking his own life to pull the man to safety and provided first aid until first responders arrived. I’m really, really proud of you, Adam, and honored to present you this award. In South Pacific Division we are about ‘Building Strong and Taking Care of People’, and taking care of people means taking care of your fellow man.”
During his speech, Czekanski thanked his parents, Mike and Diane Czekanski, who live in Sheridan, N.Y., for raising him with a strong faith and values that emphasized hard work, humility, selflessness and compassion. “These are all key components that make a good citizen and a good person,” he said.