The convoy just wasn’t going the way the soldiers expected it to. Their Heavy Equipment Transporter (HET) vehicles, used to haul vehicles such as tanks or Bradley Fighting Vehicles, kept blowing tires and one even had a chassis catch on fire.

All the setbacks kept putting the soldiers from 96th Transportation Company, 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade, further and further behind as they convoyed down Interstate 10 through western Texas, heading out to support training at Fort Bliss last weekend.

Bad enough to train over the weekend, but this particular Saturday was looking to be even more of a mess. And that’s when they spotted the smoke on the side of the highway, heading west towards Van Horn.

“At first, we all thought it was a grass fire,” said Staff Sgt. Paul Martinez, a motor transport operator serving as the assistant convoy commander for the training. “A lot of civilian vehicles in front of us kept slowing down, and we had 25 HETs behind us. We slowed down and we looked, and I thought, that’s a lot of smoke for a brush fire, and we saw a vehicle down at the bottom of the hill with a lady and two kids trying to come up the hill.”

Martinez brought the convoy to a halt, and the soldiers immediately jumped out of their vehicles to assist. It turns out the woman driving had lost control of her vehicle while driving east-bound I-10, narrowly missing an elderly couple driving west before crashing into the ditch. The elderly couple had stopped to help and all needed assistance getting away from the burning vehicle.

After ensuring everyone was safe, the soldiers helped keep the fire from spreading, directed traffic and provided first aid to the family. While the mother did not speak English very well, soldiers who spoke Spanish helped translate and found the elder of the two boys, perhaps around 10 years old, had some minor injuries. Out came the combat life saver bag with medical supplies and Sgt. Gregory Davis of Lafayette, Indiana, got to work.

“Sgt. Martinez had grabbed the first aid kit, so I ran over to the little boy and started checking him out,” said Davis, a motor transport operator. “He was complaining of pain on the back of his head near his ear — he had some small lacerations, probably from the broken glass, so I ... had Sgt. Martinez put gloves on my hands so it wouldn’t contaminate the gauze, got the gauze out and cut it, put some ointment on it and put it on. He asked me if it was going to hurt, so I just helped keep him calm while I set it up.”

The young man also had a large bruise on his lower left leg, and after determining no bones appeared to be broken, Smith had the boy sit down and kept him entertained until emergency personnel arrived. He then briefed the paramedics on all the injuries he had observed and treated.

Prior to being put in the ambulance, the young man insisted on getting his photo taken with the soldiers who had helped him and his family.

“You don’t expect something like this to happen while training,” Smith said. “Being able to help somebody ... What I think had the biggest impact on me was after everything was done, he came back to get a picture with us and said that when he grew up, he wanted to be a soldier. It’s things like that which make an impact on you as a person, as a soldier.”

Each of the soldiers involved said they believed the only reason they had all the issues with the convoy operation was to ensure they were where they would be needed, when they were needed. Prior to the family being taken to the nearest hospital, 2nd Lt. Cierra Goodman, the convoy commander, noticed the mother was barefoot — so she grabbed her spare set of shoes to give her, Martinez said.

For Spc. Zachary Morgan, a wheeled vehicle mechanic from Keller, Texas, it was simply the right thing to do.

“I just felt like I was doing my job — the real hero is the guy who stopped originally,” he said. “There was a whole bunch of cars passing us, and they had no idea that there was someone down there who could have died. But (the elderly gentleman) who stopped ... I think he’s the real hero.”

Everything turned out well in the end, however, and the soldiers were able to continue their mission with a lighter heart.

“They were out there doing what they needed to do,” Martinez, a Houston native, said about his troops. “We waited until (emergency services) arrived. They asked us some questions, and that was it. We were just in the right place at the right time — we had a lot of delays, and weren’t even supposed to be there at that time. I’m definitely proud of these soldiers.”

dbryant@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7554

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