By Fort Sill Tribune staffSeptember 19, 2019
FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Sept. 19, 2019) -- A birthday celebration Sept. 7, at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge could have turned tragic if not for the intervention of a Fort Sill Soldier who came to the aid of a hiker, and a child suffering from heat exhaustion.
1st Lt. Eddie Mullen, field artillery commandant's aide-de-camp, was credited with helping save the two by providing cold water, encouragement, and helping the stricken man down Elk Mountain.
"It could have been a tragic day, but ended with everyone going home in relatively good order thanks in great part to 1st Lt. Mullen's help and quick initial response," said James Sorenson III, who was the father of the injured child Kathryn Sorenson, 14. "May our Lord bless Eddie Mullen for his kindness."
Sorenson, an experienced hiker who lives in Mustang, was at Elk Mountain with his four children. With them were two other fathers (veterinarian Dr. Rick Hufnagle and Bryan Arledge), who each brought four of their children for a day hike.
It was 10 a.m. when the group of 15 were about to begin their hike at the trailhead. As Sorenson put on his hiking boots the sole separated from one of his boots. He decided to go to Lawton to buy a new pair of boots. Hufnagle and Arledge went ahead and led the 12 children on the trail, Sorenson said. The kids ranged from 8 to 16 years old.
The group had plenty of water, and Hufnagle had hiked the trail before. About 11 a.m. Sorenson received a cell phone call from one of the party letting him know they were at the top of the mountain and having a picnic.
Sorenson arrived back at the trailhead about noon, ready to make the hike. The temperature was about 96 degrees, he said.
"About a third of the way up to the mountain I was getting concerned because I was sweating hard," said Sorenson, who was carrying three liters of water and a radio to communicate with the others.
Reaching the summit in about half an hour, Sorenson discovered Hufnagle and a couple kids were missing, and that Kathryn was not feeling well. Through radio comms everyone was rounded up and provided water.
"Dr. Hufnagle was red and didn't look that good. He was clearly hot," Sorenson said. He and Arledge got the group moving down the mountain to return to their vehicles.
It was a slow descent as Hufnagle, who is in his early 50s, needed frequent breaks, and the terrain required climbing over boulders, Sorenson said.
The temperature was hot, the granite was radiating heat, and the ground was scorching, said Sorenson, who works as an electrical engineer in Oklahoma City.
"We never ran out of water, but he (Hufnagle) was getting more and more heated," Sorenson said. Through hydration and rest, Kathryn was recovering.
It got to the point where Dr. Hufnagle could go no further, so Benjamin Arledge, 16, was sent down the trail to notify U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel of the situation.
It was about 1 p.m. when Mullen was at the Elk Mountain trailhead parking lot talking to environmental educator Randy Hale.
Mullen, who said he is an experienced hiker and spends much time in the refuge, had hiked Elk Mountain earlier. "It's my usual go-to spot."
He knows the trails, and the one trail he frequents takes him about 20 minutes to reach the top of the mountain.
Benjamin came upon the two and told them of the group's predicament. Mullen loaded a sack with cold water provided by Hale. Then he and Benjamin left to find the hikers. Hale remained and called in the emergency from his truck to Fish and Wildlife, Mullen said.
About a quarter-mile up the hill, Mullen and Benjamin heard the group calling out. On scene, Mullen proceeded to hand out the water to everyone. He saw Hufnagle tucked against against a rock in shade.
Mullen removed Hufnagle's backpack and hat and had him lie down.
"I could tell he was dehydrated, exhausted, and starting to cramp up," Mullen said, "and he was kind of out of it, but still responsive."
Mullen and Sorenson remained with Hufnagle, while everyone else was able to hike down to the trailhead. Hale arrived about half an hour later.
The terrain was rough so the three men had to gingerly walk Hufnagle down the trail. It was on the trail that they then met a paramedic from the Cache Fire Department, Mullen said.
Sorenson, a former Navy lieutenant, described Mullen as his friend and hero.
"On behalf of myself, Mr. Arledge, Dr. Hufnagel, our children, and our wives, we would like to thank Eddie Mullen for helping to save the life of a dear friend and also helping to ensure the safety of our children," he said. "I believe 1st Lt. Mullen provided aid for at least four hours in 100-plus degree weather, without thought for himself."
Mullen's command leadership heard about his lifesaving efforts.
"They've been saying great job, and are glad that I'm doing something, helping out the community," he said. "I was just glad that I was able to help."