Hero in our midst

November 14, 2008 -- Fort Worth, Texas (Nov 14, 2008) -- A traditional guardsman doesn't have a "normal life," as most will admit. He or she works a civilian job all week, finds time to cook dinner then coach a kid's soccer team. In addition there are preparations for a monthly drill only to find out the day before drill weekend that there is activation for a six-month overseas deployment.

As Maj. Gen. Dehnert, Texas Air National Guard Adjutant General Commander stated during his visit to the 136th Airlift Wing back in September, "It is a tough job to balance military career, civilian career, family, church and community."

That was the case for Technical Sgt. Shonda L. Winkler, vocalist and French horn player, 531st Air National Guard Band. Sergeant Winkler was one of the 136 Airlift Wing band members asked to sing the National Anthem at a Grapevine High School pre-football game on September 12, 2008, to promote Air National Guard recruiting.

That night after she sang the National Anthem, she had to rush home and prepare for Hurricane Ike Relief duties early the next morning. "It was a long day," Sergeant Winkler recalls. "I was activated that morning, taught all day, then after school drove to Grapevine to sing at the game and afterwards go home and pack."

However going home to pack had to wait. Just minutes after leaving the game she saw a vehicle speeding by recklessly clipping a convertible that was a few feet away from her. "After it was hit the convertible careened across three lanes hitting another vehicle, then it hit the median, spun a couple of times and finally stopped," stated Sergeant Winkler.

It wasn't just the shock of watching a major accident but the fact that the convertible began to light up in flames with the driver still trapped in the vehicle. Sergeant Winkler parked a few feet away from the convertible and rushed to try and get the victim out of the vehicle while simultaneously calling 9-11 to tell the operator about the accident.

The driver of the third vehicle hit by the projectile convertible was an off-duty fire fighter. He pulled over to assist Sergeant Winkler in taking the victim out of the vehicle. Just moments after saving her from the burning car, it was engulfed in flames. "It was literally covered by fire and I couldn't believe it. I was so grateful we were able to take her out of the car in time," said Sergeant Winkler.

What was going through the vocalist' s mind when she saw the accident? Some would probably feel heroic or others might be scared but Sergeant Winkler knew instinctively and through military training that she would have to help the victim. "I was shocked at first and for one second couldn't believe what happened but when I saw her car light up, I knew I needed to get her out of that vehicle," said Sergeant Winkler.

Once emergency vehicles arrived on scene, Sergeant Winkler stayed to make a statement. But aside from making a statement, she also called the injured girls family to inform them about the accident and let them know what hospital she would be going to. "I think that's an important thing people should think of during these situations," Sergeant Winkler added. However her day wasn't over. "I stayed to give my statement to police but I still had to go home and prepare for Hurricane Relief duties the next morning."

No one really knew about the accident, except by word-of-mouth, and that is what makes Sergeant Shonda Winkler a silent hero. In her civilian job she is a music school teacher for Wells Elementary in Plano. She is an outstanding individual with a friendly personality and dedication. She has the ability to be a grade school music teacher by day, a singer and instrument player in the Air National Guard; she was activated at a moment's notice and still had the frame of mind to save someone's life during an emergency.

"What she did was amazing considering that she was experiencing stressful hurricane relief activation." She is truly a hero whose story should be told," said Lt Col. Trevor Noel, Deputy Commander, and 136th Mission Support Group proudly.