On Christmas Day, an NCO from the Vermont National Guard was enjoying the holidays in Maine with his extended family when a life-threatening situation played out before his eyes, according to a Vermont National Guard release and a local news report.

Staff Sgt. John Hampson’s five-year-old second cousin was walking on the frozen surface of Clearwater Lake, playing with a new metal detector. In a flash, the ice gave way, and the boy fell into the freezing water. His parents, Hampson’s first cousin and her husband, a Navy Reserve officer, rushed to help, but they too fell through the ice and became stuck in the lake.

Hampson, an instructor at the Mountain Warfare School, had recently returned from a training mission with French soldiers in Djibouti. He initially ran onto the lake and fell through the ice as well, the Army release said, but he was able to get out and assess the situation.

“It was family, so it was really an adrenaline-inducing situation,” the NCO told WCAX.

He also said in the Army release that he had to make a concerted effort to stay calm.

“When it looked like it was going to be a problem with more people going through the ice, I saw the bigger picture and got things organized,” Hampson said.

Hampson found a rope and a toy boat and marshaled other family members into a human chain to pull the boy and his parents from the water, according to the release.

His cousin’s husband, Navy Cmdr. Jordan Gottfried, said Hampson “began medical intervention for my son, who had been in the frozen lake for an unknown time, while also initiating a safe and effective rescue for my wife and myself.”

“[Hampson] was able to extricate us from the water within a few seconds, without incurring further risk to others,” said Gottfried, who praised the NCO for immediately initiating cold-temperature medical treatment that he knew from his work as a mountain warfare instructor.

“[He] very likely saved the lives of three people,” added Gottfried.

The Vermont National Guard is working to determine the best way to recognize Hampson for his heroism, explained spokesperson Maj. Scott Detweiler when reached via phone.

Gottfried would likely agree.

“His professionalism as a mountain operations and rescue expert and selfless devotion to others, well beyond the call of duty, represent the highest ideals and best character of our Armed Forces,” the Navy officer argued.

Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.

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