Two U.S. Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization Soldiers were awarded Joint Service Commendation Medals at the U.S. Embassy in Clayton, Panama, Oct. 23 for saving the life of a local taxi driver July 29.

Sgt. 1st Class Alfred Tello and Sgt. 1st Class Rafael Fariarodriguez, members of a Technical Assistance Field Team deployed to provide technical expertise to the Panamanian Police Forces, were returning from a day-long training event when they got stuck in traffic on the heavily congested Omar Torrijos Highway.

As traffic slowed to a crawl, the Soldiers saw the reason for the bottleneck. A taxi had been struck by another vehicle and was straddling a ditch. The taxi driver was trapped in the smashed vehicle with his left leg pinned, and bleeding heavily from the compound fractures to his left arm.

Tello and Fariarodriguez jumped into action, assessing the driver's condition and administering first aid. Fariarodriguez instructed a bystander to call emergency services and began directing traffic around the accident site. Tello climbed into the taxi and began chest compressions as the driver began to suffocate from his own blood and body fluids.

"He was pinned so tight and trying to breath, but his airway was blocked," said Tello.

For the next 20 minutes Tello stabilized the driver, applying pressure to his hemorrhaging wounds, continuing chest compressions and clearing the victim's airway to prevent shock and suffocation.

When local fire and emergency services finally navigated their way through the backed up traffic to the scene of the accident, paramedics extracted the driver from the taxi. The driver was transported to a hospital in Panama City and listed in critical condition.

During the Oct. 23 awards ceremony, at which Charge De Affairs Kevin O'Reilly presented the awards, Tello and Fariarodriguez also found out that the driver was alive and fully recovered.

"We heard today that the driver was doing well and back to work and providing for his family," said Fariarodriguez, moments after the ceremony.

The self-proclaimed shy Fariarodriguez said he was grateful for the recognition but felt he was only doing his duty.

Tello agreed, noting it is part military training and part human decency that kicks in during crisis moments.

"We've had the military training and we know what to do, but on the other hand, it's just common sense. If you see someone trouble, you just help," said Tello. "We do what we're trained to do, whether we're helping a fellow Soldier in combat or a civilian.

Like Fariarodriguez, Tello is grateful for the recognition and happy to hear the driver recovered from his injuries.

"Both SFC Faria and SFC Tello are tremendous assets to the team, the embassy, and the Army," said TAFT Team Leader Maj. Bernard Gardner. "They are consummate professionals and their actions always promote a positive relationship between the U.S. mission and Panamanian Forces."

Gardner said he relies heavily on both Soldiers to accomplish the TAFT-Panama mission.
TAFT-Panama is deployed in support of the U.S. Embassy in Panama. It is comprised of officers and NCOs who use a variety of Military Occupational Specialties to provide vetted Panamanian Public Forces with counternarcotic terrorism tactical and operational planning in support of the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command's global security assistance mission.

Fariarodriquez is a watercraft engineer with TAFT-Panama. His duties include advising the Panamanian Public Forces on watercraft/vessel maintenance, repair, and operation and training coordination that aids in increasing Panama's capabilities to conduct counternarcotic operations through maritime, water vessel operations. Fariarodriquez has served in the U.S. Army for more than 22 years, and has held a variety of leadership positions in assignments and combat deployments throughout the world.

Tello is an infantryman with TAFT-Panama. His daily duties include advising and providing training assistance to the Panamanian forces on combat tasks such as combat patrolling, rifle and pistol marksmanship, operational planning and riverine operations. Tello has served in the U.S. Army for more than 12 years in multiple leadership positions, combat deployments and Ranger training assignments.