Resiliency, wingman, core values — these are terms we use every day to describe and define us as Airmen. Every day, I come to work and see examples of Airmen who are resilient, Airmen who take care of their fellow Airmen, Airmen who live and operate by our core values.
On Sept. 19, 2011, four Airmen from the 543rd Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance Group here took action and were perfect examples of why we use the words above in describing and defining “Airman.” Those actions likely saved the life of a fellow Airman.
September 18 was a regular day for Senior Airman Jayson Phillips. He ran 14 miles then made his weekly call to his younger brother in Dallas to rub in how fast his run time was. After his call, it was time to prepare for the work week and get some quality sleep.
The following day began normally for one of Phillips’ supervisors, Tech. Sgt. Erica Vasquez, until one of her subordinates, Staff Sgt. Tyler George, relayed that Phillips had not shown up for work. Vasquez and George knew it was not at all like Phillips to be late.
As soon as Senior Airman John Hill heard Phillips was late, he knew something was wrong. It wasn’t like his best friend not to call. When they could not make contact by phone, Hill immediately volunteered to go to Phillips’ home with George. When George and Hill arrived at the apartment they found Phillips’ vehicle parked in front.
He should be home.
They started knocking on the door, but there was no response. Now, fearing the worst for their friend and wingman, these Airmen rushed to the apartment manager’s office and convinced him to open the door for them. Once inside, their fears were confirmed: Phillips lay collapsed on his bed, initially unresponsive to their pleas.
George and Hill immediately put their self-aid and buddy-care training to the test. Once they established Phillips was breathing, they fought to get him conscious and called 911. By the time responding medical professionals were on the scene, they had Phillips semi-conscious. En route to the hospital, George assisted in keeping Phillips responsive while Hill phoned Vasquez and squadron leaders with reports.
Once at the hospital, medical professionals stabilized Phillips, getting him into the intensive care unit. George and Hill were still engaged. Because of his close friendship, Hill contacted Phillips’ family, whom he knew, with the news. He kept in constant touch with them and didn’t leave his friend’s side as the Phillips family drove the few hours from their home to San Antonio. Once the family arrived, George, Hill and squadron and site leaders maintained a 24-hour presence with the Phillips family to ensure they had access to housing, base facilities and a steady flow of home-cooked meals.
Through testing, doctors concluded this young healthy Airman had suffered a severe stroke.
I visited Phillips and his family in the midst of the initial turmoil. When Col. David Foglesong, 543d ISR Group commander, and I arrived, Hill was right there with the Phillips family offering his support — a solid wingman.
What I had not prepared myself for was seeing Phillips’ condition. He was now a 25-year-old who could barely move his hands, could not talk, with one side of his body paralyzed from the stroke.
He was conscious for only a minute or two while we were in the room. My heart sank to see such a vibrant, bright, American Airman stricken so severely. I just hoped that he could recover enough to get part of his functionality back. As he struggled just to remain awake that day, I didn’t take into consideration Phillips’ resiliency and his ability and determination to come back to full strength.
Three weeks went by. I next saw a different Phillips. As before, I wasn’t prepared for what I would see. He sat upright, talking and doing exercises to strengthen his arms. He was slowly moving his formerly paralyzed side.
A month after that, he was walking. Doctors were amazed at his recovery.
On my next visit, he had moved to the nearby Fisher House. To my amazement, he was walking with a cane and his speech was completely back. I told him, “We are going on a run soon.”
Without blinking an eye Phillips replied, “I will be running by spring.”
Phillips continued an amazing recovery. The staff of the treatment facility who helped with his initial recovery were so impressed with his dedication and determination they recognized him with their second annual Resilient Warrior Award. As I sat at the ceremony, I fought tears when he walked to receive his award, less than five months after suffering a severe stroke.
After the ceremony, I shook Phillips’ hand. Standing beside him were George, Hill and Vasquez, his wingmen. The Airmen who were not only most likely responsible for saving his life, but also the Airman who stayed there for Phillips and his family through his recovery. They weren’t there because they had to be. They were there for this resilient Airman because of their commitment to their core values. They made me proud of — and to be — an American Airman.