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Wingman saves life of fellow Airman in dining facility

By Raymond V. Whelan | 37th Training Wing Public Affairs | Nov. 21, 2006

Lackland Air Force Base, Texas — What began as just another routine meal for Airman 1st Class Brandon Thomas soon became an unexpected medical crisis.

When the dire dilemma was over, the 343rd Training Squadron Security Forces Apprentice Course trainee had saved the life of another Airman.

While Airman Thomas was eating lunch in the Mesquite Dining Facility, he noticed the person from another training team seated near him was in trouble.

After swallowing a large bite of chicken, the person rose out of his chair and wrapped his hands around his throat to indicate he was choking.

"He couldn't breathe," Airman Thomas recalled. "He was turning purple." Airman Thomas immediately went to the rear of the person and performed the Heimlich maneuver.

The Heimlich maneuver is a series of under-the-diaphragm abdominal thrusts that forces air from the lungs to create an artificial cough, which creates movement and ejects an object that is blocking an airway.

It took three thrusts by Airman Thomas to expel the food item that almost caused death by choking.

"The Heimlich maneuver worked, and his breathing came back," Airman Thomas said. Until emergency medical technicians arrived, Airman Thomas monitored the victim's breathing. Then, he put aside his meal tray and returned to training. "Every Airman is supposed to react responsibly in that type of situation," Airman Thomas said. "It just happened to be me. I was lucky. It could have gone bad."

Tech. Sgt. Jeremiah Stamp, a 343rd TRS instructor, heard about the August incident from students.

"He acted quickly," Sergeant Stamp said. "He made the right decision. He showed leadership you don't see among many Airmen."

Before Airman Thomas joined the Air Force, the Red Cross had certified him as a water and safety instructor, also to perform CPR.

For his lifesaving deed at the dining facility, the Kansas native received the Air Force Achievement Award during technical school graduation Nov. 16 in the Security and Law Enforcement Joint Training Center at Carter Hall.

According to the citation, "The distinctive accomplishments of Airman Thomas reflect credit upon himself and the United States Air Force."

Airman Thomas has received orders to the 96th Security Forces Squadron at Eglin AFB, Fla. He is the son of Lt. Col. and Mrs. Brandon Thomas. The elder Thomas is a colonel select at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and has served in the U.S. Army for 22 years.