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Face of Defense: Soldier Aiding in Michigan Water Crisis Helps to Save a Life

By Tegan Kucera, Michigan National Guard DoD News, Defense Media Activity


FLINT, Mich., Feb. 24, 2016 — While helping to hand out water to residents here, a Michigan Army National Guardsman helped save a life.

"This is why I joined the military -- to help people," said Army Spc. Charles Colwell, a medic assigned to Headquarters Company, 125th Infantry Battalion.

He is one of 65 soldiers helping distribute water after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder activated the National Guard to help with the Flint water emergency.

While on duty Feb. 1 at Fire Station No. 1 in downtown Flint, Army Pfc. Zacharry Burrell greeted a woman who was there to return recyclables. He noticed that she was short of breath and struggling for her inhaler.

Helping a Stricken Woman

“She stood there for a minute and it kind of looked like she was looking for something in her bag and then she bent down and put her hands on her knees and began coughing uncontrollably and I saw she had an inhaler in her hand,” Burrell said.

He brought out Colwell, and he began assessing the woman’s condition. Her friends told him she had used her inhaler twice on their walk to the firehouse, and it was now nearly empty. Colwell also learned she was suffering from severe bronchitis, so he called 911.

It wasn't until the next day the other soldiers realized how much he had done when she came back to the firehouse to thank Colwell for saving her life.

Colwell is also a civilian emergency medical technician in Detroit.

"I do this so much every day and everyone else is kind of blowing it up," Colwell said.

Recognition for Actions

Because of his actions, Colwell is being recommended for the Michigan Lifesaving Medal by his squad leader.

"I couldn't be more proud of him," said Colwell’s squad leader, Army Sgt. Brandon Lewis. "That's why I put him in for the highest award that I could possibly recommend for him for doing that."

Colwell went beyond his normal duties while in Flint and his actions made what could have been a bad situation a positive one, Lewis said.

"If it wasn't for him, one of us might have misjudged the situation and just thought she was sick," he said. "Not only did he immediately seek her out, but he did everything he could to make her comfortable, and by the time the EMTs and paramedics got here he already had an assessment to hand over to them so they were a few steps ahead."

The 125th Infantry Battalion includes soldiers from different companies from around the state who have volunteered to assist the citizens of Flint. They are stationed at water resource sites at the city’s five fire stations, handing out water, water filters and water testing kits.