Indiana Air Guardsmen use training to save lives following car crash during drill weekend

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Roland Sturm
  • 181st Intelligence Wing

Two airmen from the 181st Intelligence Wing provided critical care following a roll-over vehicle incident that resulted in two people being trapped upside-down in their truck.

Staff Sgt. Marlena Hargraves and Senior Airman Janelle Bonitati were traveling home at the end of the duty day on Dec. 3 when they saw smoke rising from the scene of the incident and rushed to assist.

When Hargraves, a civilian cardiopulmonary technician and member of the medical element of Indiana’s 19th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high-yield Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package, arrived at the scene, she saw the driver and passenger were still trapped inside the vehicle.

According to Hargraves, she and another bystander were able to reach the driver by breaking the driver-side window. Hargrave was then able to enter the vehicle and cut the seatbelt for both people inside the truck. She then extracted the driver from the vehicle and returned to rest the passenger down flat inside the vehicle.

Meanwhile, Bonitati, a civilian paramedic and member of the 113th Air Support Operations Squadron, arrived at the scene and noticed the passenger’s hand was seriously injured.

Bonitati said she assisted with wrapping the passenger’s hand in a towel and applying pressure to control bleeding. Once local first responders arrived, she brought extraction blankets to the vehicle and applied cervical collars to the driver and passenger.

Hargraves and Bonitati then assisted the first responders with extracting the remaining passenger from the vehicle. They remained at the scene for more than half an hour until the first responders loaded the passenger into a medical helicopter for transportation.

Despite the hectic scene, the airmen relied on their training and civilian experience to render aid.

"What I really know about stopping bleeding was from the military,” said Hargraves. “I felt like there were a few people standing around, but nobody had done anything to help. I’m one of those people who want to help.”

The airmen also credited the 181st IW with instilling a sense of willingness to respond to a crisis.

“We did something that anybody in this unit would do,” said Hargraves. “That’s key, because I think if anyone [from the 181st IW] was out there they would have done the exact same thing.”

Still, the airmen were recognized for their efforts.

“It takes a lot of courage to stop in the first place,” said Lt. Col. Laura Flood, the 19th CERFP Detachment 1 medical element commander and nurse with the 181st Medical Group. “[Hargraves and Bonitati] didn’t really know each other, but they came together like a team. It’s very heroic.”

Moreover, the incident showed the real-world importance of training to respond during medical emergencies.

“I think we worry that we train and train and train, and if something really happened, we couldn’t respond,” said Flood. “This is proof that we can.”