FORT SILL, Okla., Nov. 23, 2017 — Early in the predawn hours of Oct. 29, Staff Sgt. Matthew Johnson and Sgt. Christian Kearns of 30th Air Defense Artillery Brigade’s Air and Missile Defense Test Detachment at White Sands, N.M., were returning from socializing with friends and fellow Soldiers when their night took a drastic turn.
While headed home and approaching the highway interchange in downtown Las Cruces, N.M., Johnson and Kearns witnessed a serious car accident in which the motor vehicle occupied by a female driver and passenger, smashed into a guard rail and rolled over several times before coming to a stop. As the cloud of dust settled around the overturned and smashed vehicle, Johnson and Kearns sprang into action.
“Staff Sergeant Johnson and I were in separate vehicles, so our first priority was to establish a perimeter around the accident,” said Kearns who used his vehicle to block any oncoming traffic from the rear. “I stopped short of the accident while Staff Sergeant Johnson came to a stop just ahead of the wreckage.”
After positioning his vehicle, Kearns was the first to arrive at the wreckage where he checked for any signs of additional danger and attempted to locate the driver and any passengers.
“I came in contact first with the driver of the vehicle who was panicked and appeared unharmed,” recounted Kearns. “I almost immediately noticed a second person laying on the ground against the vehicle’s tire and not moving.”
By this time Johnson had arrived and immediately began to render aid to the unconscious passenger who had been ejected from the vehicle. A drill that was rehearsed time and time again in training now came simply as instinct. Johnson acted quickly and without hesitation, checking for breathing and sweeping the body for signs of bleeding, all while taking special care not to move the victim which could possibly result in further injuries.
“I had done this before in training and so I found myself to be very calm while rendering aid,” said Johnson. “I think this helped the victims to remain calm as well.”
Kearns called and remained on the line with the 911 dispatcher while also ensuring the driver was kept away from the passenger, as to not induce further panic and shock.
“Teamwork was everything in this situation,” recounts Kearns. “Working together we were able to control the scene and also coordinate the efforts being taken by other first responders on site.”
As the passenger regained consciousness and other bystanders arrived to assist the driver, Kearns, who is also a volunteer firefighter with the Doña Ana County Fire Department, retrieved a pressure bandage from his vehicle and provided further aid to the passenger, who was still bleeding from a head wound.
“We did the same thing we do in training every day,” said Kearns. “We stayed calm, performed a hasty assessment of the situation, and reacted accordingly.”
Law enforcement and paramedics arrived on scene within five minutes and were immediately briefed on the situation by the two noncommissioned officers as they handed off control of the scene.
“Staff Sergeant Johnson and Sergeant Kearns acted in a manner that does not surprise me in the least,” said Capt. Chris Barber, the detachment commander. “Both of these noncommissioned officers are leaders on and off the job and reacted exactly as they were trained to do.”
1st Sgt. Mandrill Demps has known Johnson since he was an advanced individual training student and expressed similar sentiment.
“When I arrived at White Sands Missile Test Range I was really happy to see Staff Sergeant Johnson, who I knew to be a stellar performer,” said Demps. “Sergeant Kearns, who I had just recently met, always highly impressed me as well. In this case there is no doubt that we had the right people in the right place at the right time.”
Johnson is confident that this experience will be a valuable teaching tool that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.
“We are Soldiers 24/7 and need to always be ready to calmly and decisively act even when off duty,” he said. “I hope that as I train Soldiers, this real world experience will help underscore the importance of realistic and comprehensive training.”