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These 2023 USO troops of the year saved injured civilians with tourniquets

A Space Force intel troop and Army combat medic both found themselves in life-or-death moments and used tourniquets to save lives.
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The use of tourniquets by an Army combat medic and a Space Force guardian in to save civilians earned them the United Service Organization’s servicemember of the year award.

The fast-acting use of tourniquets by an Army combat medic and a Space Force guardian in off-duty emergencies earned them United Service Organization’s servicemember of the year awards.

Space Force Spc. Danielle Green and Army Sgt. Michael Wolkeba were named USO’s Guardian and Soldier of the year along with five other troops from each mililtary branch, the Coast Guard and the reserves.

Green was on a bike ride in Steamboat Springs, Colorado with her husband and in-laws when she heard a scream from nearby. Following the yells, she found a sidewalk that looked like a crime scene, with a teenage girl standing in growing puddles of her own blood.

“The blood was kind of squirting,” Green said. “It was just non-stop and it definitely did not look good. You could see a lot of the muscle and it was just very, very gooey.”

The girl had been sitting on a lifted pickup truck, with a grill behind her. As she jumped down from the truck, her leg caught the side of the grill, ripping open deep gouges.

“The immediate reaction was ‘I cannot believe she’s still standing there, let’s get her to the floor,’” Green recalled. She asked for a shirt from the girl’s friends which Green used to put pressure on the wound to attempt to stop the bleeding. When that didn’t work, she decided a tourniquet was the next option.

Green, an all-source intelligence analyst for missile warning. said she’d learned how to apply a tourniquet in basic training. Using a bandana and a sharpie that the group had, she fastened a makeshift tourniquet just above the girl’s knee. 

“She’s profusely apologizing to us which I felt horrible because there’s no reason for her to be sorry,” Green said. “If anything her friends, I wish, weren’t in shock because they were not doing anything and they were just terrified.” 

Green and her husband were able to load the girl into a car and send her off to the hospital which was about a 15 minute drive. Green credited her husband, who’s in the Air Force, for helping her keep calm. 

The whole incident lasted maybe 20 minutes, Green said, but felt much longer. Afterwards, as the family continued on to lunch where she kept replaying her actions over and over. “We just kept saying for the rest of the day: I can’t believe that just happened. Did that just happen?”

Tourniquets in military medicine

Knowing how to apply and use a tourniquet, even with off hand materials like those Green used, has come to be widely viewed as a bedrock skill for military members. But that has not always been the case.

Dr. Pedro G. R. Teixeira of the University of Texas at Austin, who was part of a study examining civilian use cases for tourniquet use which was adopted from military settings, said tourniquet use declined in the 20th century in the Korean and world wars. This was mostly due to misuse where they were left on too long and cut off circulation.

“What we learned from more recent conflicts in the Middle East is that when tourniquets are applied early and removed in a timely fashion and the definitive repair is performed, also in a timely fashion, they actually have a significant role in preventing death from severe blood loss from an extremity injury,” Teixeira wrote in 2018 study.

Another study by members of the 31st Combat Support Hospital Research Group, examined prehospital tourniquet use in Iraq and found that it improved hemorrhage control among patients with severe injuries. Researchers said that 57% of the deaths they examined might have been prevented by earlier tourniquet use.

Even in the civilian world, tourniquets have begun to jump from the domain of skilled first responders to the realm of basic and even untrained first aid. In 2015, the Department of Defense helped launch the Stop the Bleed campaign, an education and training program aimed at teaching civilian bystanders to help in a bleeding emergency with tourniquet use as a key component.

A study in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons found that civilian prehospital tourniquet application reduced patient mortality by 6-fold and advocated for tourniquet use on extremities in civilian trauma cases. 

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A RV crash in California

On August 4, 2022, Sgt. Michael Wolkeba and his wife were driving to California from Fort Bliss, Texas to visit family. As the drove through Arizona, they came across a multi-collision accident. State troopers were trying to get into an RV that had slammed into the back of a semi-truck.

Wolkeba ran over and offered his assistance, telling police he was an Army medic.  

The troopers broke the RV’s window and boosted Wolkeba inside the vehicle.

“We had to work our way through a bunch of debris,” Wolkeba told Task & Purpose. “There’s poles everywhere, broken dishes, glass, wood.”

He found an older couple with their two dogs up front and realized that the woman wasn’t breathing well. She also was trapped under the RV’s collapsed dashboard and other debris, which another EMT and Wolkeba pried up using a crowbar.

“We took turns of evaluating the patient and holding the crowbar because it took a lot of effort. It tired us out,” he said. “While he was holding the crowbar, I noticed that her left leg was mangled.”

As the other EMT held the crowbar, Wolkeba used a state trooper’s first aid tourniquet on the woman’s left leg to stop the bleeding. 

Wolkeba followed an algorithm that he was taught during his training as a 68W Combat Medic Specialists, the army’s frontline Tactical Combat Casualty Care soldiers. The acronym is known as the “ABCs,” reminding medics to focus first on a patients airway, then their breathing and finally their circulation, which includes bleeding. 

As he checked the woman’s airway, he saw that as they had lifted the debris off her chest, she had begun to bleed from the mouth. “Sometimes things don’t go as we’re trained,” he said.

“I was pretty fearful at first like I was just scared that like – what if I’m not the guy to get around in time maybe? What if I can’t do this?” Wolkeba said. “I’m a believer that fear is as deep as the mind allows it to be.”

Wolkeba and Green were two of the six service members honored by the USO. The others were:

  • Navy: Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Dean Brantingham, a Behavioral Health Technician on the USS Carl Vinson led mental health service delivery for 4,400 sailors which led to 1,182 encounters, 294 triaged patients, 218 crisis interventions, 66 safety assessments, 61 individual therapy sessions, and a 95% return to duty rate.
  • Air Force: Staff Sgt. Andrew P. English was performing special mission aviator duties in support of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School when he fought a fire on a flight deck and saved 15 airmen.
  • Marine Corps: Sgt. Ramon Garcia served as a Marine Security Guard in Erbil, Iraq when a Foreign Service National exercising in a gym had an accident. He had caught his wrist on a squat rack and sliced it open. Ramon provided immediate first aid with a gauze and a compression bandage to stop the bleeding.
  • National Guard: Staff Sgt. Cody J. Foster of the Texas Air National Guard was supporting Operation Lone Star when he spotted a mother carrying her 3-year-old across a mudflap in the Rio Grande River. When they arrived on the U.S. side, Foster realized they were severely malnourished and dehydrated. He supported them while coordinating transportation and medical care.
  • Coast Guard: Petty Officer Jordan M. Canion supported six deployments to the U.S.-Mexico border and supporting Department of Homeland Security interdictions of more than 34 shipping vessels. Overall, he helped with 65 Maritime Security Response Operations sorties, 55 Small Vessel Security Boardings, 24 Recreational Safety boardings, and one Search and Rescue case.

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