Rescue mission: Drill sergeant saves Soldier from choking
October 13, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- A Fort Jackson drill sergeant received the Army Achievement Medal after being credited with saving a Soldier's life in an incident last month.
Pfc. Conor Boland was only two weeks into Basic Combat Training when he experienced firsthand how helpful Army training can be, even in non-combat situations. Boland, a Soldier in training with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment, was late for dinner at the dining facility after completing a work detail.
"I was running into the DFAC, trying to eat as quickly as possible. I took too big a bite of pork chop. It went down the wrong way and got lodged in my throat," Boland said. "I started coughing ... I tried to wash it down with some punch. That didn't work. By that time, the person sitting next to me started smacking my back, trying to help me out and that just caused the pork chop to turn."
Boland said that his airway were obstructed and that by that time, the incident had caught the attention of others in the dining facility.
"A lot of people took notice and I heard somebody yelling, 'Don't worry, someone will be there in a second,'" Boland said. "One of the drill sergeants ran up behind me and said, 'Are you OK?' I turned around. It was Drill Sergeant Lawson."
Staff Sgt. Phillip Lawson, a veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq and native of Williamsburg, Ky., took immediate action.
"I walked over and I saw that he was choking and I reached around and gave him the Heimlich maneuver," Lawson said. "I gave him two thrusts and the chunk of meat just popped right out on the floor, just like in the movies."
Lawson, a cavalry scout, said he credits his Army training with knowing what to do and keeping cool under pressure.
"It goes back to the very first first sergeant I deployed with," Lawson said. "He always said, 'Panic is contagious on the battlefield, so even if things are crazy, you just have to stay calm and let it play out.'"
Lawson said he was surprised when he found out that he would receive an award for his actions. He was awarded the Army Achievement Medal Oct. 6 -- a well-deserved honor, said Capt. Robert Snipes, his company commander.
"It just shows he's a true professional, and he's a true leader of Soldiers by caring about them," Snipes said.
Boland said the experience changed his perspective on basic training and life, in general.
"To me, for a while it was hard assimilating to basic training and I really didn't have any sort of empathy for the drill sergeants. ... It changed the way that I thought about things. It was a humbling experience," Boland said. "It gave me newfound respect for that whole trust within a team (concept). When working with others, you can't always just completely rely on yourself. You have to be able to depend on the person next to you to help you out when you need it most."
Lawson said he plans to use the situation as a training tool.
"We teach (Soldiers) how to do (the Heimlich), but they take it for granted. Don't take it for granted and don't panic. That's the lesson learned that I give out about it," Lawson said. "Stay calm and your training will carry you through. And that's a perfect example of it. We teach the Heimlich maneuver. Just don't panic and apply it and it'll work. That works for everything else, whether it's shooting, a tourniquet, a battle drill -- it all works the same."