FORT PICKETT, Va. – Four Soldiers from the Virginia Army National Guard’s Cedar Bluff-based 1033rd Engineer Company, 276h Engineer Battalion received recognition May 16, 2015, for their actions during winter storms earlier this year that slammed the southwestern part of the state. The four men were presented with awards during a ceremony held at Fort Pickett.
“This is the type of leadership I’m looking for,” said Maj. Colin Noyes, commander of the 276th Engineer Battalion. “We have two missions, our state mission and our federal mission, and I appreciate you guys pulling that emergency duty in Wise County. You set the example of what the Virginia Guard is supposed to be doing and I appreciate your efforts.”
Two of the Soldiers, Pfc. Dakotah Wilson and Spc. Nicolas Turner, received the Virginia National Guard Bronze Star Medal for assisting in the aid and transport of an elderly man whose oxygen supply was dangerously low. Sgt. Jeremy Gilliam received the Virginia National Guard Commendation Medal for assisting a resident with a life-threatening illness and 1st Lt. Joshua Favaro received the Virginia National Guard Commendation Medal for acting as the officer-in-charge during Virginia Guard snow response operations in Wise County, Va.
Turner and Wilson were delivering water when they received word that a local resident was running low on oxygen and needed assistance. The man and his family lived up a treacherous hill that Turner and Wilson negotiated their Humvee up in order to check on the man.
The man was in bad shape and Turner recognized the severity of the man’s depleted oxygen levels immediately as both his grandparents had suffered similar ailments.
“He just kept getting worse and worse and worse,” Wilson said.
Turner said Wilson suggested they improvise a litter and borrowed a blanket and a tarp from the residents to help them carry the man to their Humvee.
“We couldn’t find boards, so what we did, we ended up wrapping our hands around the tarp and just lifting and moving,” Turner explained. Wilson added that they had wanted to find some 2x4s to use as part of the litter, but didn’t have time to search due to the man’s condition.
They carried the man to the Humvee, and then started the tricky descent down the icy driveway. They’d debated even driving up the driveway initially, according to Turner, because the road conditions were so treacherous they worried about the feasibility of backing the vehicle down the icy road.
“It was really important that he stayed very calm and he did an amazing job of helping ground guide me back to get us out,” Turner said of Wilson’s assistance during the rescue.
About halfway down the hill, the man’s oxygen gave out and Wilson sprinted down the hill to alert emergency services personnel who were waiting to provide assistance to the man. Wilson said they brought up another bottle of oxygen to help the man and the whole time, as Turner negotiated the vehicle down the hill, he talked to the man, making sure he was still conscious.
“It’s a feeling I can’t even describe,” Wilson said. “We were just so happy to be down in Wise helping because all the help we did made us feel real good.”
Turner, who lives in Wise County, said, “I was just happy to do my job. After the mission was over, it was just a huge relief.”
“From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate what you all did,” Command Sgt. Maj. Daryl Plude told the Soldiers. “I’m sure there’s an elderly gentleman in Wise County today that is extremely thankful that you guys were out on patrol and assisting the community and got word that he needed help, because I don’t think he’d be here today if it wasn’t for you guys.”
Gilliam was also involved in the rescue of a man from his home. He said they drove their Humvee down a tricky driveway and, when they couldn’t get the vehicle out quickly enough, were forced to carry the man to first responders.
“I was born in Wise County and I was glad I was actually able to give back to them and help them in a situation when they needed it,” Gilliam said. “It made me feel good, as a Soldier, to help.”
Gilliam also said that the experience taught him more about being a leader when, as a junior noncommissioned officer, he was forced to think on his feet and make decisions for his team.
“Overall, it was a fantastic experience. It was a bad situation, but I learned a lot and I got to work with my Soldiers one on one,” Gilliam said.
Favaro, who earned his award by overseeing the execution of more than 80 missions in and around Wise County, said that when he and the first sergeant arrive at the emergency operations center he told them that they were ready to help. He said calls started coming in right away and that he worked with the EOC personnel to determine what missions would be best suited for the Guard Soldiers.
“The 1033rd Soldier are what made it happen,” Favaro explained. “These guys always go above and beyond, even on a regular drill weekend. They’re hard workers and a lot of them are from Wise County so they were pumped to be able to help out their local civilians with whatever they needed. It didn’t matter what the hour was, they were ready, on standby anytime to go out there and without these type of Soldiers, the mission wouldn’t have been as successful as it was.”
Favaro also credited Wise County with the success of the mission, saying, “Wise County was great to work with and they got us anything that we needed. And it was a collaborative effort, not just from the National Guard, but from all the agencies down there in Wise County as well.”