By Scott Prater
Airman 1st Class Justin Barnes, 2nd Space Operations Squadron, was anticipating his first shift on satellite operations crew duty as he drove to Schriever Dec. 19.
Thoughts of what might happen, who he might meet and the work to be performed dominated his brain patterns as he wound through neighborhoods, paused at stoplights and eventually pulled on to Colorado Highway 94 for the last leg of his drive that cold winter night.
Just as he began descending the hill east of Marksheffel Road, Airman Barnes noticed something strange in the roadway.
“It was about 10:30 p.m., one of the darkest nights I can remember,” he said. “All of a sudden I see a man stumble from the side of the road and out into the middle. I had to swerve to avoid hitting him.”
Without pause, Airman Barnes stopped, pulled to the shoulder, turned his hazard lights on and approached the man.
“As I was walking up to him I noticed blood dripping from his head onto his shoulders and along the front of his pants,” Airman Barnes said. “This wasn’t dried blood either. It was fresh. He was bleeding pretty bad.”
At that point, Airman Barnes used his cell phone to call 911 and went about helping the injured man to the side of the road. He then set him in the back seat of his car and applied pressure to his head wounds, as the 911 operator instructed him to.
“I began talking to him as a way of keeping him conscious,” he said. “I asked the man how this all happened — what he told me was shocking.”
The injured man, whom Airman Barnes estimated was in his mid 20s, said he had been riding in a van with a few friends when an argument ensued. He eventually was struck in the head with a 40-ounce beer bottle, had his cell phone stripped from him and was tossed from the van on the side of the highway. The man also said his attackers warned him that if he told anyone what had happened, they would kill him.
“He was afraid his attackers were going to show up,” Airman Barnes said. “And he kept asking me when the EMTs were going to arrive. So I kept telling him it would be about five minutes.”
In reality, it took emergency medical personnel 15 to 20 minutes to arrive on scene. Once EMTs began providing care, Airman Barnes started to grasp the severity of the situation.
“When I was telling responders the story of what happened my hands started shaking and I found it difficult to speak,” he said. “Then when I called my supervisor to explain my whereabouts I got through most of the overall story before I realized I hadn’t even told them my name.”
Despite the ordeal, Airman Barnes worked his scheduled shift on the 2 SOPS operations floor that night.
“When he arrived here and began telling crew commanders and chiefs what had happened we were all taken aback by his story,” said. Capt. Jason Hope, 2 SOPS Echo Crew commander. “We noticed some blood on his uniform and saw that he was pretty shaken up. At that point we gave him the option to go home, but he wanted to stay and work.”
Capt. Hope felt compelled to visit the Colorado Springs Fire Department that had responded to the scene to learn the details of the incident. What he learned there he used to submit an award package for Airman Barnes.
On May 4, Lt. Col. Jennifer Grant, 2 SOPS commander, presented Airman Barnes with the Air Force Commendation Medal for an act of courage.
“We had a squadron meeting and I was told to meet with the commander after that, so I assumed I was in trouble for something,” he said. “They completely surprised me with the medal ceremony. A pat on the back would have been fine with me, but I understand earning this medal is quite an honor. I’m just thankful that I had a coworker who stayed late to cover my shift and that the injured man didn’t die.”