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National Guard: Protecting and Serving the Homefront
by U.S. Army Sgt. Connie Jones
December 18, 2016

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The National Guard ... Answering The Call since 1636! (Image provided by National Guard)The National Guard is full of fascinating jobs. There are jobs for mechanics, who are good with their hands. There are jobs for computer wizards, who enjoy plenty of technical time. There are even jobs for those who love cooking. But the main job of any Guardsmen is to protect others right around home.

In recent months there have been several real world situations when Mississippi Guardsmen were the first to respond - when their quick thinking and military training was key to saving lives.

Such skills came in handy in August when floods rushed over parts of Louisiana.

Staff Sgt. Josh Braley and his family were evacuated to high ground in Denham Springs, La. Braley could have stopped there and remained with his family, but he didn't. He joined the search-and-rescue efforts for dozens of civilians in the area.

“He and others began evacuating folks to a nearby elementary school that was the only high ground in the area. Once the school began to fill up with evacuees, Staff Sgt. Braley, through his leadership and clear thinking, began to take control of the situation,” said Sgt. 1st Class Calvin Newman, the first sergeant of Headquarters Company, 177th Armored Brigade, who had relatives rescued by Braley.

Braley took control by forming groups of people to prepare food using the resources on hand, said Newman.

“He organized groups of people to boil water, consolidate, cook and ration what little food was available at the school cafeteria,” he said. “He created a makeshift shower for evacuees and provided first aid.”

The Louisiana National Guard sent a convoy to the school. When they arrived, Braley immediately updated them on the current conditions and had the severely injured civilians evacuated, according to Newman.

This remarkable rescue effort is made more memorable because prior to the arrival of the convoy, Braley did this without the support of the local authorities.

“Since the area was not a designated shelter area, the local authorities were not bringing in supplies,” Newman said. “They couldn't get to him. This makeshift shelter was the only high ground in the area and was surrounded by raging floodwaters. At times, the shelter reached numbers of up to 300. Due to the extreme danger of deep rush currents, Braley didn't allow evacuees to leave while it was unsafe.”

Newman met Braley a day later and coordinated a potable water drop-off location when the floodwater waned.

“As the days move on, I continued to receive more details of the heroic actions of Braley during the disaster,” said Newman. “His actions inspired all around him and saved the lives of countless others.”

Another tale of a Guardsmen acting heroically began September 6, around 8:15 a.m., when Chief Warrant Officer Cecil Crawford took immediate action by providing lifesaving medical aid to the victim of a motor vehicle in Shannon, Miss., outside his home.

While Crawford walked up his driveway to retrieve his garbage can, a speeding midsize vehicle carrying five passengers collided with a Lee County sanitation truck, pinning one of the sanitation workers between the two vehicles, said Crawford.

“I saw that the garbage men had just picked up, so I was headed out to get the garbage can and bring it back to the house,” he said. “I noticed that a car was coming up pretty fast and I thought to myself, ‘I don't think I would be driving that fast on this road.' I looked forward to see if any vehicles were approaching from the other direction. By the time I looked back, they'd struck the back of the garbage truck and one of the men on the back had been hit and was bleeding.”

Crawford called 911. However, he called while heading to the end of the driveway to help out in the way he'd be trained.

Crawford used the belt of the other sanitation worker as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding of the severed leg of the injured sanitation worker. He also used his own 2005 Chevrolet 2500 HD truck to separate the vehicles involved in order to allow further medical attention to the victim, who was then airlifted to North Mississippi Medical Center.

“My wife and I went to visit him and he was in good spirits,” said Crawford. “He was very thankful. I was just glad to be able to contact him and see him.”

For the courage shown by Crawford, he was awarded a Letter of Commendation by Lee County Sherriff Jim H. Johnson.

The roads can be a very dangerous place. It's even worse when it turns dark outside, reducing visibility. Even still, in the midst of darkness, there is light.

On Halloween evening on Highway 80 in Chunky, Miss., that light was provided by Maj. Andrew Birmingham, commander of Company G, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment, and Staff Sgt. Justin T. Cox, standardization instructor for the same unit.

Around 7:50 p.m., Birmingham and Cox were going on an afternoon hunt with an old friend, Rusty Kastla, a retired chief warrant officer. While they were loading up to leave, they heard a loud crash.

Then they heard the screams.

A pickup slammed into the back of a small utility trailer carrying 10 people.

“I looked at Staff Sgt. Cox and asked him if he had his bag. He said he did and we both jumped in our vehicles and headed to the scene, which was right in front the Mr. Kastla's land,” said Birmingham. “We were the first ones there and Cox immediately started triage and treatment on multiple victims.”

Cox is a full-time emergency room nurse at University Medical Center and a flight medic in his unit, said Birmingham.

“I took my lead from him. We were working on two children in the middle of the highway when the volunteer fire department arrived. Cox briefed them on the injuries and priorities while still working on one of the children,” said Birmingham.

Once the ambulances arrived, Cox filled them in as well and asked for flashlights and blankets.

Cox worked on six of the 13 victims involved in the crash. Three victims did not survive the accident.

“Two were dead when we arrived,” Birmingham said. “The third victim died while en route to the [pickup zone for the airlift]. That little girl was the worst injury that Cox had been working on. He was the primary first responder working on her for the first 10 minutes after the crash. He cleared an airway for her, packed her wounds, and assisted the paramedics on the scene.”

Even though Birmingham was present and assisting, Cox was the real hero, the unit commander said.

“I highly recommend that Cox be awarded the Soldier's Medal. I have no doubt that if not for his quick action, calm under pressure, and skill, more would have died.”

The most recent heroic act also occurred on the road.

And in the water.

Sgt. 1st Class Josh Burns, of Ponchatoula, La., and his wife were driving from Ponchatoula when traffic stopped October 21, 2016.

“My wife and I were headed out of Louisiana, southbound, and saw traffic northbound,” he said. “I looked over to see what the commotion was and I noticed there was a dump truck in the water.”

Just as his military instinct kicked in, he also noticed there was a driver in the water. The driver's family was still inside of the immersed vehicle.

“I was getting ready to jump when I saw the man pop up out of the water,” he said. “He yelled that his family was in the truck.”

Burns jumped off of the bridge and swam to the site, he said. He asked the man how he had gotten out, but the man couldn't remember.

“The cab was all the way submerged and there was only a little of the trailer out of the water. I dived down to find the door. I couldn't see because of the muddy water,” he said.

Just then, a fellow Good Samaritan lowered a crowbar down using an extension cord, he said. He was able to break a window, but it was too small to reach in. However, all hope was not lost.

“When I reached into the window on the sleeper, someone grabbed back,” Burns said. “I used a sledgehammer and broke the passenger window. I pushed the rest of the glass with my hand and pulled the lady out. Luckily, she was holding her daughter.”

Burns swam the child to the shore first, he said. Afterwards, he brought life jackets for the man and woman to swim to safety, where the ambulance came to get them. Burns dried off and went on his way.

“I did miss my (Veterans Administration) appointment,” Burns laughed, "but in my opinion I was just doing the right thing at the right time.”

Duty. Personal Courage. Selfless service. Three of the Army values are echoed throughout each of these heroic stories.

“Any of my brothers would've done the same thing. Everything worked out for a reason,” Burns said.

By U.S. Army Sgt. Connie Jones
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2016

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