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Air Force Airman 1st Class Elliott Sprehe, Special to American Forces Press Service
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M., June 8, 2009 –
Air Force Senior Airman Eric Slaugh was returning here from leave in December when he encountered a snowstorm in northeastern New Mexico, a storm that would detour him into assisting in saving someone's life.
After missing a turn because of the near-whiteout weather conditions, the Slaugh family ended up in a traffic jam due to an overturned semi-trailer that was blocking the highway.
These small setbacks led Slaugh, just a few miles outside of Prewitt, N.M., to be a couple of cars back from a man who, while taking a quick comfort break from the gridlocked traffic, would be struck by a train.
"I watched the train go by, and he didn't come back," said Slaugh, assigned to the 27th Special Operations Component Maintenance Squadron.
Slaugh later would learn that the man was standing in one set of tracks waiting for a train to go by so he could get back to his vehicle. But due to the noise of the westbound train he was paying attention to, the man didn't see the one traveling in the opposite direction heading toward him.
According to a memo from the New Mexico State Police, the man noticed the train at the last second and managed to jump mostly out of the way, though he was struck and knocked back from the blow of the train.
"I never saw him come back over the hill, so I woke my wife up and told her I was going to go check on the guy," Slaugh said. "When I got there, I could see him sitting next to another train."
Upon closer inspection, Slaugh noticed that the man's hand had been severely damaged and was bleeding profusely. A trail of blood led from where he had been knocked to the ground to where he sat, leaning against a train. Slaugh went back to his vehicle, where he retrieved cloth diapers and other supplies to help the man.
After returning to the victim, Slaugh directed someone to call 911 and used his Air Force self-aid and buddy care training to treat the man for shock and took steps to stop the bleeding.
"I held a pressure point for a while, which, for the most part, stopped the bleeding," he said. "At that point, personnel from the train that hit the man had made their way back."
The train that struck the man came to a stop about a half mile from where he was hit. Slaugh had one of the train conductors keep the man's hand elevated while he went back to his vehicle for a blanket.
When he returned to the train, a police officer had arrived. While awaiting the arrival of medical technicians, Slaugh continued to engage the man in conversation to keep him conscious. At this point, Slaugh had been awake for almost 24 hours.
Medical technicians soon arrived to secure the man and transport him to a medical facility.
As far as Slaugh was concerned, it was the right thing to do.
"At first, my mind went blank from initial shock, but after a few minutes you start thinking straight: 'I've got to do this, I've got to do that,'” he said. “I believe that if you see somebody who needs your help -- especially if this person could die without help -- and you choose not to help him and he dies, you're partially responsible.
"Did I save his life? I don't know," he said. "Did I think I'd ever use [my self-aid and buddy care training]? No, I'm a mechanic. Was it the right thing to do? Yeah."
After the ordeal was over, Slaugh and his family got a hotel room for the night to rest and contemplate what had happened.
In a memo from the New Mexico State Police, Sgt. Luis Hernandez wrote, "I truly believe that Senior Airman Slaugh's actions on this day were essential to the victim's survival. His knowledge of first aid and his willingness to help others are a reminder of the values our military personnel hold."