By Butch Wehry
Academy Spirit staff
Six cadets received Air Force Commendation Medals during the noon meal Monday for actions that saved the lives of a man in Salt Lake City Jan. 18 and three Panamanian citizens June 13.
Second Lt. Christopher Tulk, Cadet 1st Class Benjamin Garoutte and Joshua Lapso, and Cadets 2nd Class Alan Foote, Bryan Koenig and Derrick Rowe were recognized for their acts of courage.
Lieutenant Tulk, now assigned to the 47th Operations Support Squadron at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, and Cadet Garoutte were unable to attend the ceremony.
Then-Cadet Tulk and Cadet Lapso saw a man get hit by a train and dragged nearly 40 feet while in downtown Salt Lake City. Both cadets rushed to the aid of the injured man, immediately taking control of the scene and halting traffic in the process. While checking for a pulse, Cadet Lapso realized that the man was unconscious and bleeding from the head.
The cadets immediately called 911 to summon emergency personnel to the scene. When the injured man regained consciousness and attempted to roll over, Cadets Tulk and Lapso quickly immobilized him to prevent possible paralysis. They reassured him that medical personnel were on their way and implored him to remain still. Medical responders praised Cadets Tulk and Lapso for their decisive actions and for keeping the man from injuring himself further.
Cadets Garoutte, Foote, Koenig and Rowe were in Panama with Victor Nell,
a Spanish instructor with the Academy’s Department of Foreign Languages, for a
month-long cultural immersion visit when they spotted a man and two women in distress while swimming at the Santa Clara Beach in Panama City. The swimmers were struggling against a strong riptide current that was quickly pulling them out to sea.
The trip officer-in-charge and the four cadets swam to rescue the swimmers, who were in serious danger of being pulled under. News stories at the time and Monday’s citations note that their quick and selfless reaction was critical in saving the Panamanian citizens’ lives.
“We happened to be in the right spot at the right time with the necessary skills to help people in need,” said Cadet Foote, a foreign area studies major with Cadet Squadron 38 and a native of Wilson, N.C. “I’d never saved anybody from drowning before.”
Both Cadet Foote and Cadet Rowe have swam competitively since they were 8. Cadet Rowe said this was not the first time he had saved a life: he had pulled a child out of the water while lifeguarding during his high school years.
“What I did was a gut reaction and I believe any cadet in that situation would have done the same thing as me,” said the economics major from Greeley, Colo. “I feel like what I did was dependent on a circumstance of place and time. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time, and I knew how to swim.”
Cadet 2nd Class Bryan Koenig said he found himself a bit surprised to receive the medal.
“We didn’t know we were getting a medal until about 30 minutes before we were on the staff tower,” said the computer science major with Cadet Squadron 2. “I was very excited, and still am, to have received such a prestigious award.”
The Simi Valley, Calif., native vividly recalls bringing one of the Panamanian swimmers to shore.
“I was focused in the moment, using Spanish to try and keep her calm while asking her to continue kicking,” he said. “After I brought her up on shore, she turned and said ‘Thank you’ in English. That’s when I realized the full impact of what had just occurred.”
Here too, fate may have been at work, the cadet said.
“I have always been fortunate enough to grow up close to the ocean,” Cadet Koenig said. “In Florida for nine years and California for eight more years, I have always been in and around the water and in and around riptides. When someone else is in danger, you don’t think twice about what you’re doing. You just want to help them.”