Corpus Christi, Texas -For the second shift employees of the Corpus Christi Army Depot, days and nights are different in a few ways – breakfast is in the late afternoon, lunch is eaten when the stars are out and dinner is served after midnight. They are a small group who clock in as the masses are clocking out.
Just as the Aviation Intermediate Maintenance second shift employees at Hangar 45 had started their break at 4 p.m. Sept. 11, instinct and training kicked in for the team of aircraft mechanics as “Call 911!” was shouted in the break room.
Hearing the 911 directive, Eunice Garza immediately went to assess the situation.
Jose Guillen was attempting to get a response out of Edward Rokusek by administering blows to the back in attempts to dislodge the obstruction.
Garza said “I could not believe that this happened so quickly and right before my eyes. I have always been prepared, so my training just took over.”
Guillen, a U.S. Navy veteran said he kept thinking, “You are not going to die on us today.” As soon as that thought crossed his mind, everything else was an automatic response from years of crucial repetitive training.
As their fellow aircraft mechanic’s skin began to take on the pale blue pallor of someone who is not getting enough oxygen in their lungs, Guillen and Garza, working in unison, lowered him to the ground.
Without any regard for herself – and the danger of getting seriously bitten – Garza attempted to clear Rokusek’s airway by inserting her fingers into his mouth to search for the obstruction.
As these lifesaving efforts were occurring in the break room, aircraft mechanics Richard Eaton and Cindy Cantu waited outside the hangar to flag down emergency personnel.
Meanwhile, Guillen gave another more forceful blow Rokusek’s back. His mouth opened and Garza was able to remove what was lodged in his throat. After what seemed like an eternity, the sound of gasping for air was heard. Rokusek could breathe!
Medical personnel arrived within moments to administer aid. Cantu assisted medical personnel with information on the incident while aircraft mechanic Grace Trevino retrieved magazines to cushion Rokusek’s head as he lay on the concrete floor.
To the good fortune of Rokusek, Garza taught CPR for 13 years. Her quick thinking and courage to help her co-worker proved integral to the safe resolution of a potentially deadly situation.
Guillen summed up the situation as being as close to death from lack of oxygen as one could get.
“I was mostly just thankful that our persistent efforts paid off and he was alive, but also glad that he did not sustain any serious injuries. I was happy knowing he would be going home to his family again,” said Guillen.
The team’s knowledge of emergency procedures, and the rapidity of how each reacted, demonstrated a readiness to act selflessly and willingly. By being proactive in caring for a fellow employee in need during a harrowing situation, the team’s actions demonstrated the Warrior Ethos.
Garza added, “No one can be prepared as much as we would like to be. In an emergency adrenaline takes over and then you deal with the effects afterwards. I was very thankful that Edward was okay and that emergency services arrived quickly. We all work together as a team every night in the hangar and consider all of them my family.”
Rokusek and his family were so appreciative of the lifesaving measures that he presented his co-workers with 2020 Silver Eagle coins as tokens of gratitude, including a replica of the coin for them to keep handy and remind them of their heroic actions that day.
“I am so blessed to have been fortunate to work with friends who reacted the way they did. My wife and three kids thank them as well,” he said.
The actions of the group embody the best of Army Values and are commensurate with the finest traditions. Garza received personal thank-you letters from the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command Commanding General Maj. Gen. Todd Royar and CCAD Commander Col. Joseph Parker.