SANDSTON, Va. –
Virginia National Guard combat engineers put years of military training and experience to work when they helped a volunteer search and rescue crew evacuate an injured hiker off Old Rag Mountain April 24, 2016, in the Shenandoah National Park near Madison County, Virginia.
Staff Sgt. Mark Culbertson, Staff Sgt. Andrew McElwain, Sgt. Daniel Robinson and former Sgt. Matthew Sullivan were hiking back down Old Rag when they came up a volunteer search and rescue crew on their way to assist a young hiker who had broken her leg and required evacuation, Culbertson explained. After a discussion about the situation, the Soldiers offered their assistance and moved to the location of the injured hiker.
“When we got there her leg was wrapped in gauze, but you could see where the bone had popped through,” Culbertson said. “She was in a surprisingly good mood.” The Soldiers made sure she had been drinking water and helped make sure she stayed calm while they worked with the crew to set up the evacuation.
“We got with the search team and helped clear and prep an area for the helicopter to drop a basket to us,” Culbertson said. He explained that Sullivan stood on top of a bolder on the side of the cliff holding some loose gauze as a flag so the pilot could see the wind and our location, and McElwain, Robinson and Culbertson grabbed the basket, applied a splint to the injured hiker and helped the crew load her into the basket. They then carried her to the pick up location, and Sullivan again used loose gauze to help guide the helicopter. Culbertson hooked up the basket so she could be evacuated.
Culbertson said their military training helped quite a bit with the situation.
“We knew to ask if she needed any water, tried to keep her calm and check for any additional injuries,” he said. “Hooking up the basket was something I trained on when in Afghanistan, so it was as simple as hooking the cable on the d-ring and locking it for the helo to pull her up.”
In addition to the specific military training, the combined years of experience both stateside and overseas helped in the stressful situation.
“Just knowing how to stay calm because you don’t want the injured person to see you freaking out over a little bit of blood and a broken bone,” Culbertson said.
“I think our time in the Guard also helped because we all knew there was a part to be played.” Robinson said. “Everything went smoothly, and it felt like everyone knew exactly where to be. No matter how big or small. It is very humbling to be able to help someone in need, I’m glad we were there when we were and able to make a difference in her being recovered.”
While waiting on the helicopter, they cleared a safe route and practiced what they would do so they were ready when it arrived.
“We were in the right place, at the right time, and it gave us all a good feeling knowing we got to help someone,” Culbertson said. “This is the type of stuff we can bring back to the unit to teach the younger Soldiers that you never know when your training might come into play.”
All the Soldiers are assigned to the Fredericksburg-based 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion. Culbertson and McElwain are assigned to the 189th Engineer Company, Robinson is assigned to Company A and Sullivan left the military in January.