By Mark Cantrell
the face of chaos, it's human nature to get as far away as possible.
That's why civilians consider it remarkable when servicemembers move
toward a risky situation. But military personnel are trained to manage
fear, assess potentially dangerous situations, and make rapid decisions
on how to contain them. In time, that quick response almost becomes
automatic, and it doesn't go away just because a servicemember is off
duty. To hear them tell it, there are no heroes in the stories you're
about to read. But, no matter where or when things go south, a war
fighter can be a civilian's best friend.
was the case May 17, 2015, as Army Capt. Steve Voglezon headed out to
do some shopping near Fort Bragg, N.C. Driving through a rural area in
Chatham County, Voglezon came upon a horrific scene: An SUV driver had
crossed the center line and run head-on into another car, and both cars
were on fire. He ran to the SUV and, after making a quick assessment,
pulled the driver out with the assistance of some passersby.
we were pulling him out, we saw that [the driver of the SUV] had an open
fracture on his right ankle. I grabbed his torso and two others grabbed
one leg, then the other leg, and we took him about 100 yards from the
crash and the fire,” Voglezon recalls. He then applied a tourniquet to
the victim's leg and ran over to the other car and helped a sheriff's
deputy extract two other injured motorists.
“My training helped
me to remain calm during this event and to process what needed to be
done,” says Voglezon. “But it wasn't just me. Without the group effort,
the story might have had a tragic ending.”
the dangerous element isn't fire but water. In July 2013, Marine Corps
Cpl. Brian Babineau decided to enjoy a weekend at Topsail Island, N.C.,
not far from his duty station at Camp Lejeune. As he and his friends
were relaxing on the beach, they heard a scream. Someone shouted,
“There's a girl drowning out there!” Without hesitation, Babineau
sprinted into the ocean and swam out to the girl, who was thrashing
around in a panic.
“I told her to relax and put [her] arms around
my neck, and then with my left arm, I trapped her body against mine and
started to swim back with her,” Babineau recalls. But the strong
current began to push him farther away from the shore, and he had to
rely on his training to calm down and focus on swimming against the
tide. “It took me 10 to 15 minutes to get back to the beach,” he says.
“When we reached land, she ran straight to her father.” Babineau
received the Navy Commendation Medal for his actions.
third element - air - came into play when Air Force Capt. Mark Gongol
and his family were flying home from Des Moines, Iowa, after the
holidays. The first sign of trouble came when Gongol heard the Boeing
737's engines power down to idle, which the B-1B bomber pilot knew
wasn't normal. When a flight attendant asked whether any pilots were on
board, Gongol reported to the flight deck, where he saw the captain, who
looked pale and clammy.
The pilot had suffered a heart attack,
and the relatively inexperienced first officer was showing signs of
strain. “I had about five seconds to assess her: 'Was she panicking, or
was she OK to fly the aircraft?'” Gongol recalls. Concluding the copilot
was up to the task, he decided to act in a support role and set to work
programming the autopilot, communicating with air traffic control, and
monitoring the aircraft's critical systems.
After a successful
emergency landing in Omaha, Neb., the first officer managed to make it
to the gate despite never having taxied a 737 before - a feat that
greatly impressed Gongol, who downplays his own role in the incident. “I
saw nothing but the finest professionalism under pressure [from] the
flight attendants, the nurses, and the first officer,” he says.
“Everyone aboard the aircraft remained calm, and there is no doubt in my
mind this contributed above all else to our successful outcome. In my
opinion, any military pilot would have done the exact same thing I did.”
When the threat is not elemental
but human, military training can be helpful in aiding a servicemember to
spot a potential problem - especially if that person has been deployed.
Oregon Army National Guard member Spc. Jon Sweeney was returning from a
computer programming class in downtown Portland, Ore., when a passerby
set off his internal alarm. Deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan had
taught Sweeney to pay attention to his instincts, so he turned and
followed as the suspicious man approached a woman and a little girl
outside a hotel.
Sweeney saw the man trying to snatch the girl
from her stroller, and as the nanny screamed, he raced to the scene,
wrested the girl from the abductor, and put himself between them. The
guardmember then grabbed the attacker, who immediately tried to punch
him. “Using combatives training, I avoided the swing and used his
momentum to put him on the ground,” says Sweeney. “Once I got him on the
ground, I had his hand locked with one [of my] hands and ahold of his
airway with my other arm. From there, I was able to maintain control
until the police arrived.”
the most well-known recent case of off-duty intervention happened on a
train from Amsterdam to Paris in August 2015, as three longtime friends
were enjoying a tour of Europe. Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, USAF,
had fallen asleep when he and his buddies were jolted awake by the sound
of screaming and breaking glass. A moment later, a man with an assault
rifle and pistol entered their carriage. Stone, civilian pal Anthony
Sadler, and Spc. Alek Skarlatos of the Oregon Army National Guard
quickly ducked behind their seats. Skarlatos looked at Stone and said,
With Stone in the lead, the three raced down the
narrow passageway as the man raised his rifle to fire. But the gun
jammed, and as Stone lunged toward the gunman, the man hit him in the
face with the weapon. As the men struggled, the attacker began lashing
out with a box cutter, slicing Stone's thumb to the bone, but the airman
kept the assailant firmly pinned to the side of the cabin in a
chokehold. When the man managed to reach his handgun, Skarlatos took it
away, seized the assailant's rifle, and repeatedly smashed it into the
man's head until he was unconscious.
As other passengers arrived
to hold the man down, Stone saw that a passenger had been shot in the
neck and was losing blood rapidly. Trained as a paramedic, he applied
hand pressure to stop the bleeding, despite his own serious wounds.
Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler received the French Legion of Honor - the
highest French decoration for military and civil merits - for preventing
what surely would have been a massacre, and Stone received a Purple
Heart. While grateful for the awards, Stone, a MOAA member, maintains it
was a team effort, saying, “If it wasn't for Alek [Skarlatos] and
Anthony [Sadler], I would be dead. I wouldn't have been able to do it by