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Feature Stories

NEWS | Feb. 24, 2021

Ambassador praises Army Reserve medical Soldiers

By Capt. Elizabeth Rogers 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command

The United States ambassador to Kuwait honored three Army Reserve Soldiers Thursday at a ceremony at the U.S. embassy here for rendering first aid to a pedestrian struck on a highway.

“It is important for me to say to the three of you, who did a remarkable job, remarkable—in not only demonstrating dignity, but to also rise to the occasion and help this individual,” said Ambassador Alina L. Romanowski, as she presented a Certificate of Appreciation to: Lt. Col Frank Vazzana, the command surgeon, 1st Lt. Mitchell Mackesey, the command medical operations officer, and Staff Sgt. Justin McKay, senior medic for the 310th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), deployed to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

“I would like to use this as an example of our values—the important values that we hold—for human beings and for what goes on in the world,” Romanowski said.

“Thank you for what you did: it is part of your nature, it is part of your profession, it is part of your training, said the Ambassador. “It shouldn’t have to be Americans in uniform and doctors trained—it should be a part of humanity.”

Brig. Gen. Justin Swanson, the commanding general of the 310th ESC, said after the ceremony, he was proud of his Soldiers and their willingness to risk their lives to save a complete stranger.

“Staff Sgt. McKay is not just a great medic, but he is also a talented instructor,” the general said. “During our pre-mobilization, he was training our Soldiers, including myself and my senior staff, so it was ironic that he would be the one taking action for this individual.”

Mackesey said it all happened so quickly.

“We witnessed the vehicle crash and Staff Sgt. McKay said that he saw a man get hit,” he said. “At this point, time slowed down significantly. It was no more than a few seconds, but both Lt. Col. Frank Vazzana and Staff Sgt. McKay were out of the car running to the injured pedestrian.”

McKay, who deployed as a combat medic in Iraq with the “Red Bulls” of the 34th Infantry Division 12 years ago, said he was driving as he saw the man make a dash across the busy four-lane highway.

“I saw him hit by the car on the right-hand side of us,” McKay said. “He actually flew into our lane. That’s when we obviously stopped. Basically, it was a controlled emergency stop before we hit him.”

The South African native, now living in Indiana, said he performed basic injury assessments on the man as cars and trucks whipped around him and the pedestrian.

“He had multiple injuries: left femur fracture, multiple fractures to the right leg, open skull fracture that we could see, and nobody knows what the internal injuries were like,” he said.

“First, we made sure the scene was safe for everyone, then we stabilized the neck and spine, keeping the airway open, taking care of the obvious injuries and bleeding, which Lt. Col. Vazzana put the tourniquet on,” the combat medic said. “Basically, just stabilized the patient until EMS arrived.”

Vazzana said, “If we were three seconds sooner or three seconds later, we would have missed the entire accident.”

“Emotions are placed in hibernation in situations such as these, and training and concern for the welfare of the injured and one’s team come into play,” said McKay. “I think that after the event, there is a sense of relief that we were able to help a fellow human being and that none of the team or other bystanders were injured by continued traffic.”

“We were on our way to help with the in-processing of Soldiers at Ali Al Salem Air Base, particularly to assist in the administration of COVID-19 testing,” he said. “It was a pretty routine trip when out of the corner of nowhere, I witness a pedestrian being hit. I originally thought it was a two-vehicle collision but quickly realized it was a pedestrian who was hit.”

“He regained consciousness,” said the medic. “He was speaking to us, but we had no way of knowing what he was saying. He was a third country national and we couldn’t understand a word he said.”

“That was the biggest fear, someone coming up behind us and hitting our truck into us or overtaking our truck and coming into our lane again. In this situation, you really can’t plan for everything because you have to render aid. It was a bad situation.”

Air Force Brig. Gen. Darrin Slaten, the Senior Defense Official and Chief of Military Cooperation, U.S. Embassy Kuwait, said he was impressed by the degree to which the three Army Reserve Soldiers protected the pedestrian’s dignity by covering him and even securing his wallet, which had been knocked out when he was struck.

“As a guy who does this for a living as a rescue professional,” said the general, who flew as a rescue helicopter pilot, “I quickly identified with them and their story; and it was just so impactful to listen to and read about their quick thinking and their clear-headedness and the very pro-active steps they took to ensure life—if at all possible.”

The three Army Reserve Soldiers stayed with the pedestrian until Kuwaiti emergency medical personnel arrived and transported him to further care. Despite the best efforts of the Soldiers and the Kuwaiti first responders, the pedestrian succumbed to his injuries.