By Lt. Col. Steve Osterholzer
10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) public affairs officer
“I just took off toward the blast, climbing over fences and pushing through an official who tried to stop me. I knew I needed to help.”
Sgt. 1st Class Chris Spielhagen sprinted into the blast area that seconds before had been ripped apart by two bombs at the Boston Marathon, April 15.
He crossed the finish line about two minutes before the explosions tore through the finish line area, which left three people dead and more than 100 injured.
“I was recovering at the water point when the first bomb went off approximately 50 meters away,” said Spielhagen, a team sergeant in the Group Support Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), “At first, it sounded like a celebratory cannon had been fired off, which I thought was rather odd.”
After turning toward the blast, Speilhagen said his training as a Special Forces demolition engineer instantly told him that a bomb had just detonated.
Spielhagen provided first aid to a woman sitting with her broken, blood-covered legs in the air and in severe shock. She was there to watch her mother run her first marathon.
“Her lower body injuries were pretty extensive,” said Spielhagen. “After assessing her overall condition, I started from the hips down. She had a severe laceration on one leg that went nearly to the bone, a severed Achilles tendon and her left leg was shattered into an L-shaped position.” Using first aid supplies torn from a belt of a nearby medic, he quickly treated her laceration, splinted her thighs, knees and ankles together, started an IV and directed nearby personnel to bring a board to be used as a makeshift litter, he said.
“At that point, an emergency medical technician came up and classified her as ‘urgent surgery,’ the most critical status that civilian medics have,” he said.
The woman is currently in good condition at a Boston-area hospital. As civilian medical personnel began to take over the scene, Spielhagen then moved to find his wife and young daughter.
“What was very scary is that they were only
50 meters from the place where the second bomb detonated,” he recalled. “I was able to call her on my cell phone before the cell phone towers were shut down, but the next hour was a very anxious time as I searched for them in the surrounding blocks. I knew she was OK but all I could think of was to find them and get the hell out of there in case another bomb went off.”
He eventually found them and they moved as fast as they could to get away from the scene, he said.
Spielhagen, a veteran of three combat tours, credits his extensive training for allowing him to remain calm and give direction to others amid the chaos.
“All the medical training that I’ve gone through just kicked in,” he said. “The most important thing that I could do was to keep calm and not freak out; the woman was looking to me to remain calm and reassure her that she was going to be OK.
“An hour later I was filled with disbelief at what had just happened — all I could think of was my wife and daughter,” Spielhagen said. “Looking back now at what happened, I’m glad that I had my military training to fall back on … it felt good that I was able to help.”
Spielhagen is being considered for a high-level award in recognition of his efforts.