Over the course of his twelve-year career in the Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Kenneth O’Brien has shown extraordinary courage and commitment, saving multiple lives and choosing to place his life on the line every day.
“If someone needs to go do something dangerous, I volunteer,” he told the Air Force in an interview. “If someone needs a leader, I volunteer.”
The technical sergeant helped free the Thai soccer team that got stranded in a cave in 2018. He also rescued one of the Thai Navy Seals in the process. He was the farthest American in the cave during the famous rescue mission, and the first to make contact with the trapped survivors.
Additionally, O’Brien spent time serving on President Donald Trump’s security detail during the critical summit with North Korea.
For some, that would be more than enough heroism for one lifetime. But for O’Brien, even an off-duty airman still finds time to be a hero.
The U.S. Air Force technical sergeant was named one of the twelve 2019 Outstanding Airmen of the Year. While on his way from his base in Japan to the United States to receive the award, he saved yet another life.
A passenger’s baby started choking during the flight, the Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, reported. And that’s when O’Brien stepped in.
He performed CPR, successfully clearing the little one’s breathing passage, and then returned the child to its parents. Slife shared the story in a Facebook post, citing O’Brien’s many achievements — including pulling someone from a burning vehicle in Korea — and joking that he couldn’t decide if O’Brien was “Superman” or “Mayhem.”
“On his flight back to the states from Okinawa last weekend for the AFA Convention to be recognized, an infant starts choking and stops breathing. Our man OB leaps into action, clears the breathing passage, resuscitates the kid, hands him back to the parents, and then goes on about his business,” Slife wrote.
According to the Air Force, O’Brien made sure to check in with the child’s parents during the remainder of the flight back to Dallas.
Lt. Col. Charles Hodges, commander of the 320th Special Tactics Squadron, said of O’Brien, “He continues to step up when there is a need for leadership and action. This incident demonstrates without a doubt that O’Brien epitomizes the Air Force’s core values and rightly deserves the honor and selection as one of the Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year.”
As expected, O’Brien remained humble.
“I’m thankful that the child is okay and that I was able to help when the family needed support,” he said. “I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
He previously told the Air Force that he hopes to continue in his career in the military, as it allows him to help others.
“I want to keep doing this as long as I can or as long as my body can handle it. Hopefully, I can continue to do the big missions like this and continue to help people,” he said.
However, O’Brien’s most recent rescue just goes to show that you don’t have to be on a big mission in order to make a big difference.
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