By Chago ZapataMarch 8, 2019
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. -- It started out as an average Sunday. He was at the gym in his North Kansas City apartment building working out with his girlfriend. His headphones were in, he had just finished lifting weights and was getting ready to start his cardio workout on the treadmill next to her. The music was playing and the sweat was running.
He looked up as he heard somebody yell something and saw his girlfriend and the three people working out suddenly stop in their tracks and look at the man who just ran into the gym. Pulling out his headphones, he looked around curiously as nervous apprehension filled the room. Everyone stood rooted to the spot, listening intently as the man told them that somebody out front had just been shot.
The first thing that went through his mind was "he's probably overreacting." Somebody probably got hurt out in the parking lot or in the grocery store nearby.
"There's probably nobody in the area who can immediately help someone who's hurt," he thought to himself. "Even though I'm not an EMT or a combat medic I can evaluate a casualty and provide immediate care."
He decided to check it out.
"I immediately left the gym, with my girlfriend following close behind me, and when I turned the corner into the lobby I noticed the broken glass and the obvious bullet holes in the glass entrance," he said.
"I realized then that this was a bad situation."
He turned around and urged his girlfriend to go upstairs to the apartment.
Time seemed to slow down and as he made his way closer he saw a man outside near the entrance at the top of the stairs holding a small compact pistol kneeling over a second man lying face down in a spreading pool of blood. A third man, the alleged shooter, lay on the ground at the bottom of the stairs with his hands spread and a pistol nearby.
The situation was tense.
At that time, a fourth individual with a weapon joined the scene. An older man with a holstered pistol. He had been waiting in his car in the parking lot while his wife shopped in the grocery store and had decided to step in to help. He urged everyone to stay calm and was instrumental in defusing the tense situation.
"I thought at this point that there were way too many people out here with guns," he said.
The bleeding man was probably dead but when he saw the man's back rise and fall he knew he was still alive and trying to breathe.
He saw the older man kick the pistol away from near the alleged shooter's hand and decided to run to his truck for his Individual First Aid Kit, which had a tourniquet, an Israeli bandage (a first-aid device used to stop blood flow from traumatic wounds), chest seals, gauze and plastic gloves.
He had put the kit together and kept it in his truck just in case something happened … and something just had.
On that cold and overcast Sunday afternoon on Feb. 24, 2019, Maj. Karl D. Buckingham, 35, a Command and General Staff Officer's Course student, found himself in an unusual situation. A stressful situation that was not completely unfamiliar to a veteran of five combat deployments to the Middle East. He found himself providing first aid to a gunshot victim.
Buckingham, a Civil Affairs officer, rushed back to the wounded man and made every effort to keep the airway open and stop the bleeding.
According to Buckingham, a native of Camdenton, Missouri, the basics of evaluating a casualty kicked in. Check the airway. Is he bleeding and where from? What can be done to treat the problems as they're found? The training was there. After 18 years in the Army it was almost instinctual, he knew what to grab, what to look for, and how to react to what he was seeing.
"I went to roll the individual over and noticed an exit wound in his back but it looked like a lot of the bleeding was coming from the front," he said. "When I pulled his shirt up I realized he had three bullet wounds, two in the abdomen and one in the upper chest."
In an attempt to stop the bleeding, he bandaged the wounds with gauze and used the Israeli bandage.
Once the police decided the scene was safe, an officer helped Buckingham determine the man also had a sucking chest wound, a hole in the chest that makes a pathway for air to travel into the chest cavity.
Buckingham continued to provide first aid, making every attempt to treat the wounded man until an emergency medical team arrived on scene and took over life-saving efforts.
Buckingham, who graduated from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science in 2007 and is currently working on a Master of Science degree in Administration from Central Michigan University, said his father is a retired Soldier and there's one thing he always told him "never skimp out on first aid training because there's always something more to learn."
Though he did not speak of a specific situation, Buckingham said he had experience with gunshot wounds in the course of his five combat deployments. It was not something new, he had dealt with wounded Soldiers before.
However, he admitted that this situation was different.
"When you're deployed, whether on patrol or at the [Forward Operating Base], there's always a sense that something can happen, you're in a hyper vigilant state, everything seems like it's dangerous to you and you're ready to respond at a moment's notice," Buckingham explained. "What was different here is that I didn't wake up that Sunday morning expecting to be treating gunshot wounds in the afternoon right outside my apartment building."
He said that at one point the switch did flip and then it was time to act.
"I've been here before. I've seen this. I've trained on this. Let me get after this," he said.
His training as a Soldier helped him act confidently and decisively in an unusually tense circumstance.
"In a situation like this, I don't think being an officer or enlisted makes any difference, it was my first aid training as a Soldier that counted," Buckingham said. "I would hope that anyone who comes into a similar situation can keep a cool level head, evaluate the situation, make appropriate decisions and act on them."
Buckingham said he went through an emotional rollercoaster after it was all over. He experienced what he called an "adrenaline dump" and did not sleep at all that night. He kept thinking about what he could have done differently.
"Knowing the individual didn't survive, a lot of things went through my mind. Should I have moved faster? Should I have sealed the front wound instead of the back wound?" he said. "At the end of the day I can honestly say that I did the best that I could. I like to hope that I gave him a better chance of survival."
Buckingham has words of advice for fellow Soldiers.
"The number one point I have for my fellow Soldiers is to be prepared. Something as little as having a first aid kit in your car can make a difference," he said.
Pay attention to TCCC, tactical combat casualty care, the Army's name for first aid. You'll never know when you'll need it, he continued.
"I never once thought that I would ever be treating gunshot wounds on the front steps to my apartment complex but I did pack my [Individual First Aid Kit] in my truck just in case I came up on an accident, at least I would have something to help out with first aid," Buckingham said.
Buckingham also said that it is not a sign of weakness to admit that a difficult situation shook you up or that you need someone to talk to about your experience.
"We tell ourselves, 'I'm okay.' 'I can tough this out,'" he said. "There's really no need for that. It's okay to ask for help. Let's not turn a blind eye, there are a lot of veteran suicides, there's no reason you can't come up and admit that you're shook up or having a bad time because you think you're tough and can handle it. As Soldiers we tend to put a stigma on ourselves."
Buckingham was recommended for a Soldier's Medal for his actions on that cold Sunday afternoon.
It may have started out as an average Sunday, but it didn't end that way.