Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms --
They were all strangers. The three of them had never met before that evening. Their weekend had just begun like any other. Little did they know they would be thrown into a situation that would save Rebecca’s life after her motorcycle collided with a car on Highway 62.
Marines are trained for combat, an unknown scenario where any and every piece of information can help save lives. Combat is surreal; no situation is ever the same. Marines are trained to be responders, not bystanders.
But, when the situation calls for it, Marines can save lives. It was moral courage that made three Marines stop, but instinct and combat training were the reasons they were able to save a life.
In the early evening of June 7, 2013, a collision between a motorcycle driven by a Marine from the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms and a car occurred on the local highway miles from base. The motorcyclist was seriously injured and was bleeding profusely from a leg injury.
This was the opportunity for three Marines to save her life.
This is the account from a Marine who watched it happen.
Lt. Col. John Thurman, a Marine stationed at the Combat Center, pulled over, naturally wanting to provide support to anybody hurt in the accident. What he didn’t expect was to see three Marines, from different military and personal backgrounds, working together to save another stranger’s life.
ON THE SCENE
Cpl. Kyle Wells was the first on the scene. Within seconds Cpl. Nathaniel Navarro and Lance Cpl. Joshua Phelps rushed to the motorcyclist’s aid.
Traffic had crawled to a stop. Debris from a car and motorcycle accident covered the westbound lanes. The two people in the car were safe — minor injuries. The motorcyclist, Rebecca Fletcher, a corporal with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1, lay unconscious 20 feet north of the highway, with a partially amputated right leg above the knee.
THURMAN: “It seemed like they had the situation under control.”
Kyle instinctively used Rebecca’s belt to stem the flow of blood. Nathaniel automatically drove his knee into her femoral artery, slowing the blood even more. Joshua grabbed a stick and made an impromptu tourniquet and continued to apply pressure with his hands.
Nearly five minutes had passed since the accident and Rebecca was still unconscious. The three Marines were the only ones to provide first aid. Five more minutes passed and Rebecca began to regain consciousness.
THURMAN: “(The Marines) were calm and they were cool. They had effectively recognized the life-threatening injury the victim had and they were effectively treating it. They were on it.”
A trauma nurse who also arrived on the scene as a passerby had begun to assess Rebecca’s physical and mental state as she regained consciousness.
“Do you know what your name is?” the nurse asked.
“Becky,” she replied.
Despite her attempts to move, the three Marines effectively calmed her down while maintaining pressure on her wound, no doubt saving her life. For the next 10 minutes, the trauma nurse continued to ask Rebecca questions to keep her conscious.
THURMAN: “My initial thoughts were just trying to assess the situation and find out what was the priority in what needed to be accomplished. Those three (Marines) were already doing it. The priority was the lifesaving first aid and those three guys had already done it.”
Nearly 35 minutes after the accident, the firefighters and paramedics arrived. Kyle, Nathaniel and Joshua continued to administer their lifesaving techniques as emergency personnel gave her oxygen and a splint to her right leg.
THURMAN: “They were perfect. They acted as we would expect Marines to act in an emergency situation. They responded to the emergency, they assessed what needed to be done and they acted without guidance or instruction. There were a lot of people who kept driving by and stood to the side. It says something about the quality of our young Marines and that they are living up to the expectations that we expect of them.”
The three Marines helped lift Rebecca onto a backboard and a stretcher. She was transported by ambulance to a nearby landing zone, then airlifted to Palms Springs, where her leg amputation was surgically completed at the hospital.
THURMAN: “They are good kids, those young Marines. It was good to see them do everything that they should do without guidance and without asking. They just took charge because they realized what needed to be done.”
Editor’s note: Lt. Col. John Thurman is the commanding officer of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3. Cpl. Kyle Wells, 22, is a motor transportation operator with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. Cpl. Nathaniel Navarro, 21, is a mortarman with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. Lance Cpl. Joshua Phelps, 20, is a machine gunner with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.