Helping those who help others

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman John R. Wright
  • 86th Airlift Wing/Public Affairs

On a cold and snowy January night, two Airmen assigned to the 4th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron slowly drove back to the Polish army base where they were stationed.

After pulling onto base, Staff Sgt. Christina Ravelo, 4th EASOS intelligence surveillance reconnaissance liaison officer, and, then Senior Airman Georgina Martinez, 4th EASOS interface control technician, stopped inside the guard shack to have their temperatures taken — part of COVID-19 measures. They looked up to see a Polish ambulance driving by, its headlight beams cutting into the darkness as flurries of snow swerved in and out of their path.

“It had snowed a lot that day, and the roads were very slippery,” Martinez, now a staff sergeant, recalled.

Ravelo and Martinez left the guard shack, got back into their van and carefully continued down the road toward the Air Support Operations Center where they worked. The two Airmen were part of a deployed expeditionary squadron at Pruszcz Gdanski Airfield, Poland, which supported forward operating tactical air control parties.

The temperature was dropping, and road conditions were quickly worsening. As the snow continued to fall, Ravelo moved her face closer to the windshield, trying to see further into the night. Suddenly, she noticed a large object off the side of the road.

In the moments that followed, Ravelo and Martinez’s quick-thinking and heroic actions would earn them the gratitude and recognition of the Polish army and eventually an Air Force Achievement Medal.

“We pulled in closer and saw it was the Polish ambulance from earlier,” Ravelo said. “It had slid on the icy road and flipped over.”

Without hesitation Ravelo and Martinez pulled over and jumped out of their van. Remembering their Self Aid Buddy Care training, they looked over the scene and made sure it was safe to approach the overturned ambulance, Martinez said.

“The ambulance didn’t have any lights on, and it had landed with the passenger side of the vehicle against the ground,” Ravelo said. “I climbed the ambulance up to the driver’s door while Martinez climbed the other side, and we saw the driver was stuck and struggling to open the only door.”

Ravelo and Martinez were able to pry the door open, and while one of them held it, the other helped the driver climb out. Once he was out, they reached inside the ambulance to help the passenger, realizing she had hurt her knees during the crash.

“We pulled her out safely and helped bring her down the side of the ambulance,” Ravelo said. “We did a check with them to make sure the two medics didn’t have any further or serious injuries that needed immediate attention.”

With everyone safely pulled from the wreckage, the Airmen helped the medics back to the van and drove the two of them to the medical facility they worked out of.

“The fact that they saw something and took immediate action just shows you how selfless they are,” said Master Sgt. Joseph Aton, 4th EASOS superintendent. “They reacted immediately to help two people out, and I couldn’t be prouder.”

The Polish base commander, Col. Piotr Kowalski, showed his appreciation for the Airmen’s quick actions by personally presenting them with the Polish Letter of Appreciation, a recognition award in the form of a small-scale Polish ambulance model, and t-shirts.

“They put our names on the shirts, like the ones (the medics) wear, and it says, ‘We help those who help others,’” Martinez said.

Months later, Ravelo and Martinez are still receiving recognition for their efforts. In April and May, Maj. Adeyemi Fakunle, 4th EASOS commander, awarded each of the Airman with an Air Force Achievement Medal.

“On January 15, 2021, the quick thinking and courageous actions taken by Staff Sgt. Ravelo and Senior Airman Martinez kept a disastrous situation from turning worse and potentially saved lives,” Fakunle said.

Ravelo, a San Diego, California, native, and Martinez, an El Paso, Texas, native, embodied all three Air Force Core Values, stepping up to a disastrous situation and displaying resilience in the face of adversity.

“It was just a spur of the moment reaction to help people out,” Martinez said. “I didn’t think it would be recognized like this. If that was me in their situation, I would want someone to run out and help me.”

The selfless act of courage displayed by Ravelo and Martinez saved the lives of two people that day. They helped those who help others, and because of that, two Polish medics may continue to save many lives in the future.