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Airman’s bravery is portrait of courage

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jake Carter
  • 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
An Airman here saved the lives of 48 high school students and six faculty members before the wheel well on a bus exploded March 24, 2012.

Air Force officials recognized his actions as part of the Air Force’s Portraits in Courage series released Feb. 6.

Maj. Robert S. Thrower, a 315th Weapons Squadron operations officer, was on his way to pick up his daughter when he noticed something wrong with the bus.

"…(she) was on her way home from a two day field trip from California," Thrower said. "She had called me to pick her up and when I was at a stop light, the bus was passing. I took a right turn and I saw smoke coming from the back thinking it was the engine overheating."

Thrower continued to follow the bus, and said he noticed the smoke had become a fire in the back left wheel well.

"The bus then slowed down and took a left turn in front of me. I could see the back left wheel well and the fire," Thrower said. "I hopped out of the car and ran to the front (of the bus to notify) the bus driver."

After everyone evacuated the bus, Thrower ran to put out the fire with the help of another individual.

"I met up with Jason Sylvester on the other side of the bus, and he so happened to have a fire extinguished with him," Thrower said. "He was just another parent there to pick up his daughter as well, and he and I were the ones that went back to the bus wheel well before it exploded."

While they attempted to put out the fire an explosion occurred, injuring Thrower and Sylvester.

"He was hurt much worse than I was," Thrower said. "He had to get emergency surgery that night and he was not conscious after the explosion."

Thrower was lifted into the air by the blast and landed on his back.

"On the top part of my leg, I received a laceration, but I'm not sure what hit me in the leg," Thrower said. "It ended up breaking my leg right below the knee. They call it a plateau tibial fracture, and I ended up getting a couple screws put in to repair it."

When the wheel well exploded, Thrower didn't know where his daughter was sitting on the bus.

"Obviously my daughter being on board the bus influenced my actions, but it was the emergency procedures training that I received in the Air Force that enabled me to act without hesitation," Thrower said. "I was scared, but with 20 years in the Air Force, I didn't think, I reacted."

Along with recognition in the Air Force’s Portraits in Courage series, officials awarded Thrower with an Airman’s Medal for his actions.

"It is an unbelievable honor and very humbling to be associated with the other selectees in Portraits in Courage," Thrower said.