By Brandon OConnorNovember 13, 2019
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Leaving the garrison commander's office following a briefing about his capstone project, Class of 2020 Cadet Zachary Aloma had two choices of how to walk back to central area at the U.S. Military Academy.
He could have walked along the street by Eisenhower Hall and gone through the Beat Navy tunnel before crossing the road near the commandant's house. The other option was to take the historic trail with its "Use at your own risk" sign.
On Oct. 19, Aloma decided to go off the beaten path and take a trail he had never walked in his more than three years at West Point.
Looking back at that day, he says it was fate and God that had him take the historic trail that day because as he emerged from the path near the Beat Navy House, he was needed to help save the life of a visitor who had suffered a heart attack.
"That's a trail I normally would never take, but that day I felt like I wanted to take it," Aloma said.
After a day of classes, Class of 2023 Cadet Hudson Durfield was excited to see his family for the first time since Acceptance Day in August. They had arrived in town the night before for Family Weekend and were planning to meet him at Trophy Point after his classes were done for the day. Instead of just meeting them at Trophy Point, Durfield decided to walk and meet them halfway bringing him, much like Aloma, to a spot on post he almost never traveled to.
Aloma and Durfield both arrived near the Beat Navy House a little after 4 p.m. that afternoon soon after a man who was leaving the Catholic Chapel collapsed onto the ground.
"It felt like providence (to be) in the right place at the right time," Durfield said.
Walking toward the meeting point with his family, Durfield saw his mom and one of his brothers coming his way. Something felt off, though. His dad and two other brothers had crossed the street and were looking at something on the ground instead of walking to meet him.
Then at the spot where his dad and brothers were standing, he converged with Aloma and they both sprang into action to try and save the life of the man who had collapsed.
After coming on the scene and seeing the man on the ground, "A switch flipped," Aloma said as they checked the man's pulse and then started chest compressions, working to make sure his airway remained unobstructed.
Soon after arriving at West Point every cadet learns lifesaving techniques during Cadet Basic Training, but Durfield had extra training after serving as a lifeguard in high school and Aloma had taken emergency water safety as a support class last academic year.
"It just becomes a checklist in your head. It doesn't feel anything different (from training)," Aloma said. "You're just going through the same motions, the same checklist."
Durfield handled the chest compressions as Aloma monitored the man's pulse and breathing.
Time stretched for both of them as they worked to make sure they kept the man alive and performed the duties they had been trained in, but, in reality, from the moment they sprang into action to the paramedics and military police arriving on scene took about five minutes, they said.
"In the moment, I never really was thinking like where's help, where are other people just because having Hudson there as well was a huge help for me mentally," Aloma said.
As the paramedics arrived on the scene, the two cadets lost the man's pulse for the first time, but it was quickly restored using an AED the paramedics brought to the scene with them. He was then loaded into an ambulance and taken to Keller Army Community Hospital where he was stabilized before being transported to another hospital for care.
That evening, Durfield and Aloma got a call that them being in the right place at the right time and their timely actions had saved the man's life and that he would recover.
"It was a huge relief; I called my family right away," Durfield said. "That was definitely a different element that my family was right there the whole time. It was just kind of another layer to the complexity of it all. That was outstanding to get that, and I called them right away and was able to sleep well at night. It was great. It was a great feeling."
For their actions, Durfield and Aloma were both presented with an Army Commendation Medal by Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy during a ceremony Nov. 8.
"Fate put me in the right place, but there's nothing special about me that made my response any different from what I think any other cadet would have done," Aloma said. "I think all of them would have done the same thing."