By Sgt. Davis HarrisJuly 21, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Army News Service, July 21, 2009) -- Five Fort Bragg Soldiers serving in the Philippines recently received awards from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who was visiting Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, Philippines.
On May 15, Staff Sgt. Roberto Flores, a psychological operations noncommissioned officer assigned to the 5th Psychological Operations Battalion from Fort Bragg -- along with four other Soldiers -- was driving back to base on Basilan Island after meeting with some members of the armed forces of the Philippines. It was a rainy day and the roads were dangerously curvy. At about 3 p.m. they drove by a truck next to the roadway that had crashed into a tree.
"We spotted an older man on the side of the road flagging us down and holding a 16-year-old boy who had clearly just suffered a major head injury. He was bleeding profusely from his face and head," explained Flores. "We stopped and immediately everybody began to react. We had no medic with us, so it was up to our combat lifesaver training and first aid training."
The group of Soldiers, which included Staff Sgt. Joshua McKay of the tactical Psychological Operations Team-Delta; and three members of Civil Affairs team 734, Capt. Charles Claypool, Sgt. 1st Class Anand Budhu and Staff Sgt. Richard Schuster, pulled three other injured Filipinos out of the wrecked truck. Among the injured was a woman in her early 20s with a broken arm and shoulder, a man in his 20s with possible broken ribs and an unconscious man in his 60s with severe head trauma.
The Soldiers rapidly assessed the situation and reacted with little hesitation.
"Communication was flowing through all of us as we helped one another with the victims," said Flores. "Maybe a minute into doing the assessments, it was agreed by all of us that we needed to get the younger and older male to the hospital or they were going to die."
The group loaded the two critically injured men into the back of one of their trucks to keep them stable. The other two sat in another truck after having their injuries treated.
Flores understands and speaks Tagalog, officially called Filipino, and Spanish. Both languages are used in the Philippines. Thanks to his training and proficiency with the language he was able to understand when someone in the crowd that had gathered indicated there was a doctor in their midst.
"I turned around and I saw an older man in blue scrubs," Flores recalled. "I asked him if he was a doctor. He replied 'yes,' so I led him to the victims right away, and he said 'Let's get them to the hospital.'"
It took 20 minutes to get to the Basilan Regional Hospital. The doctor, whose vehicle was equipped with a siren, led the way. Flores sat in the passenger seat of the truck carrying the two critically injured men.
When they approached the hospital, medical personnel were awaiting their arrival. The group unloaded the injured and let the nurses and doctors take over. According to members of the civil affairs team, the critically injured older man and youngster survived.
The Army Commendation Medal citation awarded to the Soldiers by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates read:
"If not for the first aid and quick action on the parts of (the team members), it is likely that the 65-year-old male would not have survived the accident. Their efforts have been directly attributed to the saving of his life."
Flores said that each award he's received throughout his Army career holds special meaning to him, but receiving the Army Commendation Medal from the Secretary of Defense was an unexpected surprise.
"I remember being a bit nervous and having butterflies in my stomach. I don't know why, but I did. I also thought to myself, 'never did I think that I, who grew up a poor Mexican-American kid, would be standing in front of the secretary of defense and receiving an award from him. It really made it a memorable moment in my life that I will never forget," he said.
(Sgt. Dave Harris serves with 4th Psychological Operations Group Public Affairs.)