By Sgt. Christie SmithApril 12, 2017
JOHNSTON, Iowa - An Iowa Army National Guard Soldier was awarded the Iowa National Guard Medal of Merit during a ceremony on April 9 at the Camp Dodge Joint Maneuver Training Center in Johnston, Iowa, for her role in providing life-saving assistance to a stranger who had been shot just outside her apartment.
Spc. Lauren E. Kopetzky, a multichannel transmission systems operator-maintainer with Company C, 224th Brigade Engineer Battalion based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a junior studying biology at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, received the award given to Soldiers who demonstrate outstanding service, or accomplishment, or acts of heroism.
"The only thing that set me apart from every other person was the Guard gave me the training to know what to do," Kopetzky said.
On the afternoon of Aug. 9, 2016, Kopetzky was home alone in her new apartment in north Ames. She and her boyfriend had moved to a quieter neighborhood, which they considered the "nicer" part of town. Contemplating going to the grocery store, Kopetzky heard two men outside arguing loudly, which she said was unusual.
When five gunshots erupted in the street, Kopetzky reacted instinctively.
"I thought somebody threw firecrackers at my window for a second," said Kopetzky.
Witnesses who filed official police statements, said they saw Kopetzky run out into the street and make contact with the victim, a man who had been shot five times in his back. Kopetzky returned to her apartment to gather t-shirts and immediately began applying pressure to the victim's wounds.
"It should be noted at the time Kopetzky ran out of her apartment, there was an active shooter in the area," said Detective Amber Christian, Ames Police Department, in a letter to Kopetzky's commander. "Kopetzky could not have been certain the shooter was gone and she still risked her life to help a complete stranger."
As a high school student in Stromsburg, Neb., Kopetzky became a certified nursing assistant and has since worked in nursing home facilities. In the past year, she became a certified medical assistant at Northcrest Communities in Ames.
Working in the medical field for several years gave Kopetzky the knowledge and experience to monitor the victim's breathing and heart rate. After more than five years in the medical field, Kopetzky has seen injuries and illness, but never a shooting victim. Kopetzky said the training she received from the Army -- from how to treat a gunshot wound, to how to stay calm under pressure -- gave her the ability to react accordingly.
"It's weird, you know. All that training they give you in basic training and at your unit just kind of kicks in," said Kopetzky.
Kopetzky was able to give the 911 operator detailed instructions on the victim's location, as well as the direction the shooter had fled. She was also able to provide aid to the victim until the ambulance arrived. Kopetzky can be seen in a witness's cell phone video and on police dashboard camera video rendering aid in the street, while barefoot.
"It's just in her nature to help people," said Sgt. 1st Class Wade Kopetzky, Kopetzky's father and a fellow National Guard Soldier.
Wade, a quality assurance noncommissioned officer in Grand Island, Neb., and a crew chief and platoon sergeant with Company G, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, Nebraska Army National Guard, in Lincoln, Neb., was proud but not surprised.
Kopetzky said she had just been raised that way. Her father, a former Marine, career Soldier, combat veteran and one-time EMT instructor, had raised her with that helping spirit. Though she knew he was proud of her, she said it probably wasn't as shocking for him to hear, as it was for her mother Jennifer Stitz, an accountant at Iowa Fertilizer in Des Moines, Iowa.
Capt. Mike Tate, commander of Company C, 224th Brigade Engineer Battalion, heard about Kopetzky's bravery from Soldiers who had caught the story on the local news. Kopetzky was in the process of transferring from the Nebraska National Guard to the Iowa National Guard and had not yet met the other members of Company C. Tate said he was excited to learn he was getting a good troop.
The following weekend, at Kopetzky's first drill in Cedar Rapids, Tate introduced her to her company, citing her heroic deed.
"It's the definition of selfless service," Tate said, referencing one of the core Army values. "It's incredible. It's a rare thing to find someone with that hardwired in them."
Tate, a two-time combat veteran, said few have witnessed this kind of heroism before.
"She had a complete disregard for her own safety," he said.
While others remain impressed by Kopetzky's courage and quick-thinking, life continues on as usual for the pre-med college student -- including a full-time course load in biology, five hours in an Iowa State research laboratory each week, and 24 hours each week at Northcrest -- plus drill weekends and other monthly Guard commitments.
"To be honest, I haven't thought much of this incident since it happened," Kopetzky confessed. She was surprised to learn she would be recognized for an act that she still feels wasn't extraordinary, but rather, expected.
"I feel like it's what most decent people would do," Kopetzky said.
Going forward, Kopetzky said the incident has reassured her she can rely on her training in an emergency and has reaffirmed her dream of becoming an emergency room physician or trauma surgeon. She said she hopes to stay in the Army and continue to serve throughout medical school and, later, as a physician.