BOISE – Two Idahoans are alive today thanks to the quick and skillful reaction of some of America’s most elite service members.
After completing a day of small arms training, Airmen with the 125th Special Tactics Squadron (STS), Oregon Air National Guard, were in a convoy heading to Gowen Field, Idaho, May 15, 2022, when an accident unfolded in front of them.
“We were just driving back to base. I look over and I see it happen, and I tell the driver to pull over,” said Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Studenny, 125th STS senior enlisted leader. “I was running across the highway on the phone calling the others to grab their gear, and I looked back and they were already out of their vehicles running across the median.”
The Airmen’s convoy was on a stretch of I-84 with a speed limit of 80 mph when a motorcycle with two riders was struck from behind, causing extreme injuries to both riders, including severe head trauma to one.
“If I was ever in a situation with that bad of trauma, those are the guys I want working on me,” said Studenny. “Our guys went straight to work; it’s like second nature. You have over a combined century’s worth of combat experience with the medics that we had on the ground.”
Lives were on the line, and these Airmen were ready.
“These guys were in flip-flops sprinting across the median, ready to flag down traffic and create a roadblock to protect their teammates and the patients,” said Maj. Alex Nell, 125th STS commander. “We had guys that blocked and directed traffic while their teammates simultaneously moved to triage and treat what ended up being two patients. We had four to five pararescuemen and combat controllers working on each patient.”
The Airmen acted quickly, assessing and treating injuries.
“One patient had really bad road rash, likely broken bones, and experiencing shock, but was responsive,” Nell said. “They stabilized the head and neck with organic equipment and established an IV to administer fluids.
“Simultaneously, they got to the other, who was in really bad shape. I won’t get into specifics, but it was bad,” he said. “They assessed the second patient, ended up clearing and establishing an airway, put in intraosseous access for fluid administration, and stabilized the head/neck and pelvis/back for transport while monitoring vitals. They got them both to a point of stability to be able to be transported by ambulance.”
The stars seemingly aligned for these Airmen stationed out of Portland Air National Guard Base in Oregon to witness and quickly respond to this accident in Idaho.
“The fact that those six vehicles just happened to have the equipment, the personnel and, oh by the way, the recent relevant training, it’s a series of events that is hard to explain,” he said.
The STS Airmen had conducted tactical combat casualty care (TCCC) training just days before. And thanks to their firing range training the day of the accident, they had even more specialized medical equipment.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, and the ICU confirmed it, one of the patients would have died on scene had it not been for [the 125th STS Airmen], and the other patient could have easily died from shock,” said Nell. “The week prior, we happened to have just completed our TCCC refresher and hands-on cadaver training, including everything from controlling arterial bleeding to establishing airways via cricothyrotomy.”
In the time it took for paramedics to arrive, the 125th STS members managed to do what they are expected to do while deployed.
“I think in Special Tactics, we just expect this of our operators and of ourselves,” Nell said. “When you take a step back and put their actions into context, this isn’t a deployed theater with combat operations, this is in the middle of Idaho … and if it hadn’t been for the actions of our guys, one person would be dead, potentially two. I couldn’t be more proud of everything they did.”
As the Air Force Special Tactics motto goes, “First There …That Others May Live.”