HomeNewsArticle Display

Life Saving, Troop Leading, First Sergeant

Saint Paul, Minn. -- By definition, a hero is a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for their brave deeds and noble qualities. Most people have a hero they follow, whether it is an Olympic athlete or a rockstar. Most can quickly rattle off someone they admire or aspire to be.

However, most people wouldn't name the person sitting next to them during their daily commute as their hero. Mike Johannes, a resident of Bloomington, Minn., might beg to differ.

During a normal commute, Robert Renning, a Minnesota Air National Guard first sergeant, was driving along when he saw something out of the ordinary in his rear view mirror. It wasn't a driver putting on make-up, eating a meal or texting a novel, but rather, it was a Chevrolet TrailBlazer starting to catch fire. It was Johannes.

Renning took it upon himself to get Johannes to stop his truck but then discovered Johannes was unable to get out. Without second guessing himself, Renning rescued Johannes from the vehicle which was completely on fire within a few minutes.

Many were impressed by how Renning rescued Johannes. He took the frame of the passenger side door and bent it until the glass broke. This allowed him to pull Johannes out of the truck safely with only minor injuries.

Thanks to an abundance of media attention, the nation saw the heroic deeds this very humble first sergeant did, not for a stranger, but for his fellow citizen. To Renning, this was an act that any passerby would have done.

Renning first joined the Minnesota Air National Guard in 2014. As a staff sergeant, he wasn't even thinking about becoming a troop-leading first sergeant. But when he was deployed to Iraq, he found himself helping his fellow airmen deal with personal issues and that's when something became personal for him.

"Someone there said they thought I would make a good first sergeant," said Renning. It was not something he had ever considered but the seed was planted.

"The Air Force may add or change roles and programs, even the emphasis may shift over time, but at the end of the day, you still have people as the common denominator," said Renning. "Noncommissioned officers have to be aware of their people's situations and as first sergeants we play an important role by ensuring our airmen are taken care of."

Renning attributes some of his star service to the Air Force core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. According to him, these Air Force values can be taught at a young age.

"The Air Force core values aren't that different than what I was taught by my parents and other family members," said Renning. "Having integrity in your interactions with others should be the norm, not the exception. We need to be servant-leaders, leading by example and getting in and doing for others without consideration for ourselves. Last, but not least, is 'excellence in all we do'. The old adage 'anything worth doing, is worth doing well' seems to fit. We need to do the best we can, learn from it, and do better as we move forward."

The courage and selfless service of this Woodbury, Minn. native was evident to his family, his peers and the world that day on Interstate-35. Renning is a true citizen-soldier.

"That day on I-35, my girlfriend and I were in the right place, at the right time to help Mike," said Renning. "Call it divine providence or coincidence, it was our day, and our turn to put-up or shut-up when it comes to living out core values."