Fort Bliss (U.S. Army) — Chaparral, N.M., resident, Linda Hartman thanked the men who saved her life face to face, after nine long months.
Hartman was the passenger of a single car, roll-over accident in January of this year. The black Ford Focus she was riding in veered off a highway and slammed into a guard rail causing the vehicle to flip over six times before coming to a complete stop. Hartman suffered a cracked sternum, four cracked ribs, closed fractures in her left leg and an open femur bone fracture in her right that severed her femoral artery.
That morning, Sgt. 1st Class Todd Richter picked up two of his Soldiers from ammunitions guard detail at White Sands Missile Range. He was driving Sgt. Michael Black and Spc. Joshua Aprill back to Doña Ana Base Camp when they came upon the mangled sedan. The Soldiers pulled over to see how they could help.
Black, a combat medic, grabbed his medical bag and began to treat Hartman, applying a tourniquet to her right leg. Richter assisted Black by stabilizing Hartman’s neck. Aprill cleared debris from the road and directed traffic while keeping the uninjured driver of the vehicle calm.
The Soldiers are assigned to Battery B, 1-121st Field Artillery, Wisconsin Army National Guard.
Their unit was mobilized to the area to conduct pre-deployment training. Two days after the accident, they deployed to Afghanistan.
They since returned from deployment Oct. 11.
Oct. 17, a nervous Hartman finally met her heroes, who she now considers family. Flanked by her father, Paul Garcia, and husband, Doug, Hartman gave a tearful hug to each Soldier at the Directorate of Mobilization and Deployment Headquarters.
The group sat and recanted memories of that day. Despite the seriousness of the accident and Hartman’s injuries, the mood remained light and comical. During the conversation, it was mentioned that Hartman was Black’s first live patient.
She looked at him and asked, “How was I?” prompting laughter throughout the room.
She asked the men, “What were you thinking when you drove by?”
Black responded first by saying, “We were not thinking anything. We were tired!” noting they had just got off a 24-hour duty and had been awake all night.
“When I think back to that night, it is all a blur,” said Black.
Hartman has gone through a painful recovery since that day. She had several surgeries, including a removal of her knee joint. She suffered through infections and painful skin grafts. She still has surgeries scheduled and at least a year of recovery time. Hartman remains positive about her progress and says her situation could have been so much worse if she had not been wearing a seatbelt.
“You never think it is going to happen to you until it happens to you,” said Hartman.
The Soldiers are impressed with Hartman’s healing process.
In previous media interviews, Black said, “It’s fantastic to see how far she has come since the incident. Seeing where she started and the kind of trauma she suffered, it is amazing to see the spirit she has kept up through the entire ordeal.”
During the reunion, DoMaD Director, Col. John F. Dorney, presented the heroes with coins.
“From one citizen Soldier to another, thank you,” said Dorney.
The Soldiers, still on deployment orders were required to remain on post, but that did not stop the celebration. The newly extended family broke bread at Texas Roadhouse at Freedom Crossing, where they were recognized by the staff and given free ice cream.
Richter and Aprill were awarded Army Commendation Medals for their involvement. Black was recommended for the Soldier’s Medal.
The Soldier’s Medal is the highest award one can receive in a non-combat related environment. Even though the award is still pending approval, plans are being made for it to be presented to Black at the National Guard of the United States convention next year.
The ARNG unit departed Fort Bliss Friday morning and returned to a ready and anxious family and friends in Wisconsin that afternoon.