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JBSA News
NEWS | May 21, 2024

Stepping up with lives on the line, Airmen help after crash

By Julian Hernandez 433rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The evening commute turned from calm to crisis for several 433rd Airlift Wing Reserve Citizen Airmen on their way home from a day of work at Joint Base San-Antonio-Lackland on May 9, 2024.  

Just after 3 p.m. that afternoon, an SUV rolled over and crashed through the JBSA-Kelly Airfield perimeter fence along Growdon Road, heading North, away from the JBSA-Lackland commercial vehicle gate. 

According to the report from the 802nd Security Forces Squadron, a black 2011 Dodge Nitro drifted into oncoming traffic and almost hit a box truck head on for reasons unknown at this time.  

The driver was able to swerve back into the proper lane, but lost control of the vehicle, causing it to crash into the embankment at the fence line. It then rolled over, smashed through the fence, and landed on the driver's side roughly 100 feet from the roadway. 

Senior Airman Joe Herandez, a 433rd Maintenance Squadron hydraulic technician, and Senior Master Sgt. Ernesto Compean, 433rd Maintenance Group Operations senior enlisted leader, were passers-by leaving the base. When they saw the incident from their cars, they immediately realized they needed to help. 

Chief Master Sgt. Kurtis Albright, 433rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron senior enlisted leader, was a few cars back and didn’t see the moment of impact, but as he got closer, he recognized he needed to act. 

All three Airmen climbed through the hole in the fence made by the vehicle and started to help however they could.  

“We ran up to the vehicle lying on its side,” Albright said. “The front windshield was busted out and as we looked in ... there was a passenger strapped into the passenger seat and the driver.” 

At that moment the Airmen became fully aware of the seriousness of the situation. 

“We asked him if they were okay,” Albright said. “The driver was shaking pretty bad. The passenger told us that he had a seizure and I just saw a lot of blood.” 

With years of tactical combat casualty care, or TCCC, training between the three of them, the Reserve Citizen Airmen reacted quickly.  

Hernandez crawled into the overturned vehicle, unbuckling the passenger’s seat belt so Compean, and the others who had also come up to help, could pull the passenger out. Hernandez then began to evaluate how bad the driver’s injuries were. 

“I noticed there was blood right below him,” Hernandez said. “I started looking to see where's this blood was coming from... it was underneath his left arm by his bicep. When he moved a little bit, bright red blood just came seeping out, so I yelled for a tourniquet.” 

Fortunately, Hernandez happened to have a tourniquet in his personal vehicle. Albright was able to get it while Hernandez stayed with the driver. Hernandez then applied the tourniquet, using the knowledge from his TCCC training. 

With the driver’s bleeding under control, Albright and the others on scene checked for any fuel leaks or anything that could start a fire. Seeing none, they decided to wait for first responders before moving the driver as someone had already called 911 minutes prior. 

San Antonio Fire Department paramedics and a San Antonio police officer arrived within minutes of the 911 call and took over the scene. 

Speaking about their experiences afterward, all three Airmen reflected on how their experience and training as reservists enabled them to react in a chaotic moment like this one. 

“Our training kicked in and we all worked together,” Compean said. “Even though we’re from different units, we all worked in conjunction. It was actually a pretty awesome thing to be part of.” 

“What I found impressive is that there was no hesitation on anybody's part,” Albright said. “You would have thought everybody deals with this sort of thing every day, so it just shows us that all the exercises and the TCCC training really have an impact.” 

“Definitely a lot of the training stuck, so it kind of came naturally to me,” Hernandez said. “It allowed me to stay calm. I wasn't freaking out, so I was able to talk to him calmly because I know if you start freaking out, the other person may start freaking out, and that doesn’t make anything better.” 

Alamo Wing leadership recognized the actions of these Airmen embodied several of the Air Force’s core values and made a point to acknowledge their initiative and ability to put service before self. Col. Thomas Albrecht, 433rd Maintenance Group commander, and Col. William Gutermuth, 433rd Airlift Wing commander, awarded commander’s coins to all three Airmen. 

“These three exceptional Citizen Airmen are the type of selfless leaders that make me proud to be in the Air Force Reserve,” Gutermuth said. “Their willingness to step up and help in a situation where so many other people might have chosen to look the other way is truly admirable.”