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Arizona Airmen help save woman, receive Commendation Medal

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael Matkin
  • 161st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Two Arizona Air National Guardsmen were awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal, Oct. 2, for actions performed while deployed from the 161st Air Refueling Wing, Phoenix to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

Members of the 161st Maintenance Squadron, Staff Sgt. Matthew St. Onge, crew chief, and Staff Sgt. Ancel Miller, electrical environmental specialist, rendered life-saving care to a victim of a head-on car accident.

The fellow Copperheads were returning to base when they witnessed the accident. They instantly raced to the scene, walked around the car - looking for flames - and assessed the situation. Miller instructed a bystander to call 911.

"My first thought was 'Oh, we got to go help her'," said St. Onge. "We could see that the victim was hurt and we had to move her. We know you aren't supposed to move a victim, but we assessed that we needed to move her to allow her to breathe."

"It was a scary moment," said Miller. "We could see this foam of blood and drool coming out of her mouth and she was jerking and leaning over - having a seizure. I was hesitant at first to move her. I was honestly scared. 'Do we move her or not?', but we had to move her to render aid."

They said this is where their self-aid buddy care really kicked into gear. Air Force members are required to be qualified in Self-Aid Buddy Care, which incorporates methods for checking and caring for numerous injuries. 

"We did the standard 'one, two, three, lift' and moved her to the side of the road," said St. Onge. "We then put her on her side in the recovery position and used the 'head tilt, chin lift' to position her airway open. I held her head in position until emergency aid could arrive - it took about seven minutes for the ambulance to arrive. She was still having a hard time breathing, and I was so worried she was going to stop. I was living breath by breath with this woman."

St. Onge and Miller said their training in self-aid buddy care was integral in being able to help the woman and knowing - instinctively - what to do.

"The next time I'm going through training, I will definitely bring up this situation," said St. Onge. "This could have been a family member, a loved one or a friend. It's important information. It's not just a box to check off. It's not something you should skip out on. It's something you should invest your time and energy into."

At the presentation of the awards, Col. Randall Inman, 161st Maintenance Group commander, said "A lot of people would have said 'it's not my problem', but our military training give us the confidence to do something rather than do nothing and walk away. In the Guard, we care about everybody, we have the proper training and the proper tools to render aid. We don't run from the gunfire we run to it, we don't run from the burning building, we run to it; and that's what this exemplifies. It's a great thing and I couldn't be prouder of these two Airmen."