Indecision often haunts the heart of combat.
Inside the chaos of crisis, where the standard definitions of time distorts and overlaps, uncertainty rules and often a moment of hesitation translates into tragedy.
Yet for Spc. Christopher Soderholm, a mine resistant ambush protected vehicle driver for Foxtrot Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, 77th Sustainment Brigade, 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command and a native of Baker City, Ore., his calm resolution proved to be the difference the night he saved his gunner in the wake of an improvised explosive device detonation.
What Soderholm did that night and how he did it was brought into sharp focus July 5 when he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal on Joint Base Balad, Iraq, for his actions when the MRAP he was driving hit an IED.
Even now, months later, Soderholm said he still struggles to accurately express what occurred during the incident.
“It is hard to describe,” he said.
The night of the IED strike, Soderholm said his crew was almost back to JBB on what he called a routine mission.
“It was just another mission,” he said. “I was thinking about getting back and getting maintenance done.”
In a burst of light Soderholm’s vehicle was hit by the blast of an IED.
As Soderholm brought the big MRAP to a stop he said muscle memory took over. Behind him, Spc. Maximillian Miller, an MRAP gunner for F Company and a native of Dundee, Ore., appeared to be injured. Soderholm acted quickly as he stopped the MRAP.
“I pulled Miller out before I opened the door,” Soderholm said.
Soderholm carried Miller out of the MRAP and away from the vehicle. He then turned around and ran back to the vehicle, grabbed a fire extinguisher and started to fight a fire that had broken out from the vehicle.
The action of carrying his gunner out of the MRAP after the IED explosion happened in a flash for Soderholm. He said there was little forethought involved in the action.
“When it is your buddy in there you don’t hesitate,” he said. “I pulled him out of that truck on instinct.”
Miller and Staff Sgt. Tony Cox, the MRAP truck commander and a native of Redmond, Ore., both returned to duty shortly after the incident.
Soderholm said the training he received before the battalion departed the United States was the primary factor in his actions.
“I used to get mad at Gowen Field, [Idaho] or Camp Shelby, [Mississippi] with some of the training. Then I got thrown into the real world, and all that training created muscle memory,” he said.
Soderholm also said he can now relate to the stories he’s read or heard regarding soldiers making the ultimate sacrifice to help a comrade.
“When something like that happens, you know, you jump on that grenade for your buddy. I understand [now] why people do that,” he said.
Maj. Jason Lambert, the executive officer for F Co. and a native of Hermiston, Ore., said Soderholm’s performance that night was outstanding.
“I think he captures the essence of what makes a great Cavalry trooper. A soldier who steps up like that has a huge impact on the entire unit through his example. It sets the tone,” said Lambert.
“I’m extremely proud of Chris Soderholm. He is a very brave kid,” said Capt. Max Arvidson, the commander of F Company and a native of Parma, Idaho.
A quiet, reserved soldier, Soderholm said he is pleased he was awarded the Bronze Star medal but added he was simply doing his duty.
“I was able to do what I was supposed to do when I needed to. I’m proud I was able to do my job,” he said.
Story by Staff Sgt. Patrick Caldwell