When Airman Steven Doty was the first to rush to the scene of a downed helicopter in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan, he didn't consider the possibility that he might have been putting his own life in jeopardy.
On May 3, 2010, a Russian aircraft bringing supplies to Kalagush, a military base that had been the target of several attacks, dropped suddenly to the ground as a result of mechanical failures. Doty, who worked at the base, leaped into action after observing the crash on a monitor at the base's joint operations command center.
"There wasn't a lot of time to think in the chaos," he said. "But I've been raised with this 24/7 mentality to help people in need."
At the time of the incident, Doty, who grew up in New Jersey, was part of a provincial reconstruction team, a group from various military branches charged with bringing relief to unstable territories. Though his typical role was to serve as a combat photographer, on that day he found himself rescuing three injured passengers from the helicopter and attempting to disable the main rotor, which continued to spin even after the crash.
What he didn't know at the time was that the helicopter was loaded with 2,000 pounds of highly explosive mortar shells, which were brought in to protect the base. Had a single one exploded, the entire rescue team could have been killed.
"I just reacted," he said. "I didn't think about the severity of it. It didn't really hit me then that I could have died."
Doty, now a staff sergeant, was honored Feb. 21 with the Soldier's Medal, an award recognizing any member of the armed forces — with either the United States or a friendly foreign nation — who acts heroically in an event not involving conflict with an enemy.
One of the presenters was Capt. Raymond Benedict, who was the commander of Doty's provincial reconstruction team and who witnessed the events following the crash unfold.
"Sergeant Doty did not hesitate for a second," Benedict said. "He led the rescue effort. This award is three-and-a-half years late."
Doty's then-girlfriend, Thalia — now his wife — was an airman in the team at the time, working about 50 yards away from the scene. She was among those evacuated after the crash.
"We heard it hit the ground," she said. "I saw him, and I was so scared because the rotors were still running. It was very intense."
Steven Doty's heroism doesn't surprise his father, Timothy Doty — who is himself a decorated retired airman.
The elder Doty, who flew in from Dallas to attend the ceremony, recalled an incident in the late 1990s when his son, then a teen, asked his father to pull their car over so they could help victims of a car crash. Steven and his two brothers, who also later joined the military, helped those in the car accident.
"The paramedic told us later that [one of the victims] would have died if it wasn't for Steve," Timothy Doty said.
In Afghanistan years later, Doty again found himself with an opportunity to help others. After the injured occupants of the helicopter, who later fully recovered, had been pulled to safety, Doty returned to the scene to try to disable the aircraft.
He actually called his father from the site of the crash for advice.
"At that point, there was nothing to be done," Timothy Doty recalled. "They just had to wait for [the motor] to die out."
Doty has worked with Fort Meade's Defense Information School, an education center for communications professionals within the military, since 2004, most recently as a master instructor for the visual communications department.
He is also an adjunct lecturer at Anne Arundel Community College, where he teaches photography.
His time in Odenton and at Fort Meade is soon coming to an end. He and Thalia, who is no longer serving in the military, are planning a move to be near family in Texas, where Steven will start a new job as public affairs officer at Laughlin Air Force Base.
"I hope he doesn't end up in any situations like that again," said Thalia Doty with a laugh.