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Military Training Lays Foundation for Later Lifesaving

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2010 – A retired military member seen in newly released video bounding across the path of an oncoming subway car here to rescue a man who had fallen onto the tracks follows a long line of current and former servicemembers who say they instinctively drew on their military training as they became heroes off the battlefield.

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Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. John F. Regni presents the 2009 Col. James Jabara award to 1973 graduate and classmate Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger during a parade held in his honor April 15, 2009. Assisting is William "T" Thompson, chief executive officer for the Association of Graduates. Sullenberger received the award for displaying extraordinary airmanship in hazardous conditions by landing the crippled U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River Jan. 15, 2009. U.S. Air Force photo by Mike Kaplan

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

In footage being broadcast widely today, retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Dimas Pinzon is seen leaping from the platform of a Washington Metro rail station and navigating across two high-voltage third rails to pull a man who had fallen during an epileptic seizure from the platform on the other side of the tracks.

"You just don't think. You just do," 57-year-old Pinzon told local reporters of the rescue, which occurred in August.

Although Pinzon has never been in combat, he credited his military training with teaching him to make split-second decisions.

“The training that you get in the Marine Corps does prepare you for situations like this, where you have an instinctive reaction to a situation,” he said today in an interview with CNN.

Pinzon said he had another advantage: his father, a worker on the high-voltage third-rails when Pinzon was a young boy, had taught him what was safe to touch and what wasn’t along a subway line.

Heroism is an everyday occurrence on the battlefield as soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors risk their lives to protect or save others. But Pinzon joins a long line of servicemembers and veterans who have applied their military training and quick-reaction skills in non-combat, emergency situations to save lives.

Some of their heroics have been highly publicized. Who can forget Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, the former Air Force F-4 Phantom II fighter pilot who in January 2009 crash-landed a crippled airliner in New York’s Hudson River, saving 155 lives?

A 1973 Air Force Academy graduate who received his initial pilot training in the Air Force and served as a flight leader and training officer between1973 to 1980, Sullenberger steered US Airways Flight 1549 toward the river when both of his aircraft’s engines failed less than five minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport. All 150 passengers and five crew members survived.

Sullenburger credited a lifetime of preparation through education and training that began in the Air Force for giving him the skills and confidence to carry out what’s been called a textbook-perfect rescue operation.

Visiting the Air Force Academy three months later, he said it was difficult to point to any particular training he received there that guided him during the heroic act on the Hudson River.

"It was many little things that added up to an important whole," he said. "It was the entire experience [at the academy]."

Officers Mark Todd and Kimberly Munley, both members of the civilian emergency services force at Fort Hood, Texas, were first responders whose decisive actions are credited with saving lives during the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting rampage there.

“We did just like we were trained to do…shouting commands and working as a team,” said Todd, a retired soldier said after the shooting. “We had no time to feel anything, just to react.”

Todd served 25 years as an Army military police officer, with assignments at six bases in the United States and Germany before retiring in 2007 to join Fort Hood’s civilian police force.

He told reporters he recognized the risks as he and Munley ran toward the soldier readiness center while others ran from it. “There is a certain amount of fear, but you have to control it,” he said. “You rely on your training, and your training takes over.”

That’s exactly how three sailors responded after seeing another off-duty sailor hit a wall and get thrown from his motorcycle and over a bridge in Hampton Roads, Va., in March 2008.

Edgar Ardon, Jason Murphy and Elisandro Leal, all holding the rank of Navy petty officer third class and assigned to the USS Carl Vinson’s onboard security force, were driving home from their late-shift duties when they witnessed the accident.

They stopped to help, and spotted Brian Davis floating face-down in the Chesapeake Bay beside his motorcycle helmet. Davis, who has since left the Navy, was stationed at the time aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

As Leal used his cell phone to call for help, Ardon, an aviation support equipment technician, and Murphy, a fire controlman, climbed over the railing and down to the water’s edge. There, they stripped down to their underwear before jumping into the frigid water and pulled Davis to a rocky area where they could begin lifesaving efforts. Davis, who had stopped breathing, coughed up water and began breathing shortly before paramedics arrived on the scene.

Speaking to a local reporter following the incident, the sailors credited their military training for making the rescue possible.

“Our training helped us,” Murphy told the Virginia-Pilot newspaper. “We practice every day on how to respond to emergencies. So we felt like we were prepared to help out.”

They resisted being labeled heroes. “Hopefully, anyone in our situation would have done this,” Ardon said.

“This was someone’s brother, son, or father, and I was in position to help this guy,” he continued. “I’m not a hero; just a person serving in the military, and trying to serve others when they need it.”


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