A Wisconsin motorcyclist is alive today thanks to the quick and decisive response of a Wisconsin Army National Guard convoy.
As a convoy of vehicles from the 32nd Infantry Brigade’s 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry rolled down Wisconsin Highway 21 in Waushara County, they spotted trouble. Just outside Coloma, Wisconsin, on their way back to battalion headquarters in Appleton, the commander of the convoy’s lead vehicle stopped at an accident scene after noticing a woman screaming for help. A minivan and a motorcyclist were involved in a collision that left the motorcyclist severely injured. Thankfully, the Guard was there to answer the call.
The incident occurred June 19 as the unit made its way back to the battalion’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company armory in Appleton after its two-week annual training at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. Sgt. Steven Stewart, the battalion’s assistant supply sergeant, was in the lead vehicle and ordered the convoy to stop. Knowing that the unit’s medics were in a different convoy, Stewart radioed the other vehicles in his convoy for any Soldiers that were trained to treat casualties.
Known as Combat Lifesavers, or CLS qualified, these are non-medical Soldiers who have received training to assess casualties and provide initial treatment when medics are unavailable.
Spc. Thorr Prieto and Spc. David Stern had received CLS training just days before at Fort McCoy and responded immediately when Stewart’s call came over the radio. Joining them were Spc. Matt Zuleger and Spc. Jose Rivera.
Zuleger and Prieto were the first to arrive on the scene and began assessing the injured man who was unresponsive and bleeding from his head and arm. According to Zuleger, the man had severe road rash on his back, bruising along his ribs and was having difficulty breathing. The duo quickly began treating his injuries, stopped the bleeding in the man’s arm using their individual first aid kits and deduced that the man had a collapsed lung. Stern and Rivera located a CLS kit with additional medical supplies and subsequently rushed to the scene where they began bandaging the man’s head injury.
The Soldiers kept him stabilized, reassured him and continued assessing his condition until an ambulance arrived. Stewart meanwhile had jumped out of his vehicle and began directing traffic around the congested area.
Eventually, a second convoy led by Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Demmet from the unit approached from behind. Demmet and the second convoy helped shut down the highway in both directions and established a controlled turnaround for vehicles.
After treating the injured motorcyclist for nearly 20 minutes, the Guardsmen turned the scene over to emergency personnel who eventually summoned Flight for Life to get the man to a hospital. The Soldiers stayed on the scene the entire time, and when the paramedics arrived, the Soldiers provided their assessment of the man’s medical condition, how they had treated him and then proceeded to help load him onto a stretcher and into an ambulance before the helicopter arrived.
The motorcyclist ultimately survived the wreck.
“Literally, I can’t remember thinking through the whole thing,” Zuleger, an infantryman from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, said. “It was just kind of like I snapped and just went into action and the whole situation ended. That’s when I finally thought about what happened and the whole situation just hit me.”
Prieto, of Appleton, had a similar response.
“Basically when I ran up to the situation and looked at it, from there it just kind of clicked,” he said. “The training and everything just kind of took over. I didn’t really think about it much. I knew what I needed to do and what had to be done, and I just kind of went with the flow of it.”
It was clear that the Soldiers’ military training was a key factor in their calm and efficient response, according to Rivera, who helped bandage the victim’s head while the others treated him for shock and assessed his other injuries. Rivera, an infantryman from Menasha, Wisconsin, said that even though he had never been in a situation like that before, he relied on his military training to keep him calm and focused.
“Without it, I wouldn’t have known what to do in a situation like that,” he said of his military training.
Neither Rivera nor Zuleger had anything more than basic first aid experience, but their training as infantrymen helped them remain level-headed. Stern and Prieto had received CLS training during their annual training but never dreamt they’d have to put it to the test so soon.
“I’m just glad that we were there to be the ones that were there and react that quick,” Stewart said of the incident.
To Prieto, the Soldiers’ reaction to the scenario was second nature for those with a military background.
“It’s just the mindset we have,” he said. “When you see a situation, and you see someone in trouble, it’s kind of our natural instinct to take over and help the situation and do something about it. I’m pretty proud of how we handled the situation and the other people there as well.”
The unit’s leadership was also proud.
First Sgt. Todd Peterson, the enlisted leader of Headquarters Company, noted that many cars likely drove past the accident without stopping, and while the reaction of his Soldiers was heroic, he’s not surprised they reacted with such professionalism.
“That’s what we train for,” he said. “Basically instinct from training kicked in as they arrived upon the scene and seeing that people were in need of help. It does not surprise me a bit.”
Peterson believes their actions were indicative of the Army values in action — specifically the value of selfless service.
“The Soldiers didn’t do it for recognition,” he said. “They did it because that was the situation they came across.”
The commander of the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, Lt. Col. Victor Parziale, agreed.
“As a commander, I’m pleased to see that their training took over,” he said. “At the very moment of decisiveness, they acted. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that Citizen Soldiers act in this accord, not just in those days when they’re in uniform, but every day of their lives.”
Parziale said the National Guard and the military are focused not solely on training for combat, but for building men and women of character as well, and that character was on display with the Soldiers who responded to the accident.
“The Citizen Soldier proves himself day in and day out, and the quality of that Soldier is evident not just in this act, but think about all the other acts that went unnoticed,” Parziale said. “All the other times that they helped out their community, or their neighbors, or their friends.”