JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- For the past 20 years, retired Gen. Mike Carns, former vice chief of staff, U.S. Air Force, has served as a senior fellow for newly promoted general officers, rear admirals, and senior executive service civilians, who attend the National Defense University's Capstone course, located at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. Capstone is five weeks long and usually consists of 50 or more attendees who are traditionally called fellows.

Brig. Gen. Ronald T. Stephens, deputy commanding general, Regional Health Command-Pacific (RHC-P), Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), was among the 46 fellows who participated in the course from July 11 to Aug. 12, 2016.

By all accounts, that course had been going as well as planned. However, no one could have imagined the events that unfolded two days before the course was scheduled to end.

"We were on the 14th Street Bridge going across the Potomac River, returning to Fort McNair from the Pentagon," recalled Stephens. "We had probably been on the bus for five or six minutes. All of a sudden, there was a little flurry of activity up front and someone said, 'Hey doc, we need you up here for a medical emergency.'"

When Stephens made his way to the front of the bus, he saw Carns slouched over in his seat and completely unresponsive. In the middle of traffic, in the middle lane, with nowhere to go, Stephens and two others moved Carns to the floor and conducted a quick assessment.

"He was not breathing with any regularity, and we could not find a pulse," Stephens said.

Stephens, a board certified Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physician, and his Capstone classmates, began administering Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).

"We were taking turns performing chest compressions," Stephens explained. "When you're doing CPR on a real person, it's different -- it's not the same as the training."

The team of three continued performing CPR on Carns for approximately 15 minutes. Amazingly, the bus was able to maneuver out of traffic, off the freeway, and park near a national park service building where they were able to get an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) from a park ranger.

With Emergency Medical Services on the way, Stephens said, "We hooked him up to the AED, and it shocked him once. We continued to perform CPR until the paramedics were able to take over."

By then, Carns' heart had begun beating again. He was transported to a local hospital where he later underwent triple bypass surgery.

Carns has since fully recovered, but hasn't yet had a chance to speak with the Capstone fellows who saved his life. He did, however, express his heartfelt gratitude.

"There's no more selfless profession than being a medic or doctor in the military. These people are called to serve … it's incredible what they do," Carns said. "I would say to general Stephens, thank God you were there, because he truly recovered my life. His efforts, and those of two others, who, through team CPR, saved my life," he said.

And according to Stephens, saving lives is what doctors do.

"Taking care of people in one way, shape or form is what I've done for decades now. I was just doing what I knew was right and what I knew needed to be done," Stephens said.

In an emergency situation, the difference between someone doing something versus doing nothing, could be life or death.

"Knowing CPR is important, because that's how you can help to sustain a life while you're waiting for the AED to show up," Stephens said. "Anybody whose physical and mental capabilities will allow them to perform CPR, and learn the whole Basic Life Support process, should do it, because you never know when those skills will come in handy."

For his quick actions and lifesaving efforts, Stephens was awarded the National Defense University's Certificate of Appreciation during a RHC-P ceremony held September 2016 at JBLM.