914th ARW civilian awarded medal of valor for saving life

  • Published
  • By Peter Borys
  • 914th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

It was a beautiful summer morning Monday, August 20, 2018 on the Ohio Turnpike near Sandusky. Mr. Randy Wilson and his wife were driving back to their home in Getzville, N.Y. after returning from Muskegon, Michigan to visit his parents and attending a high school reunion.

Wilson, the Chief of Plans and Programs for the 914th Security Forces Squadron at NFARS was unaware that his 36+ years of Air Force security forces training would be tested in a few short hours.

The drive was mostly uneventful until he approached three semi-tractor trailers on the eastbound lane of the turnpike.

“One was parked on the far right shoulder and two were in the right hand lane following each other,” said Wilson.  “I was getting ready to pass these semis when the lead semi crashed into the other on the far right shoulder scattering debris all over the highway.”

Faced with imminent danger events became almost surreal.

“It was hard to slow down and avoid debris at the same time,” exclaimed Wilson.  “It seemed like we were in a 3D movie with tires and gas tanks rolling down the highway toward our vehicle.  I came to a stop on the far left shoulder.   My wife immediately got out her rosary and started praying for all involved.  I got out and started running to the semi that had flipped over several times and was on fire.”

Wilson was the first and only one on scene for at least 10-15 minutes.

“On my way to that semi the first driver that was parked on the right shoulder gave me a thumbs up indicating he was ok.  The second driver was confused and probably in shock but appeared to be ok.  When I got to the third driver who was wedged in his cab, was in and out of consciousness, and asked me to help him.  The truck had flipped over several times and landed on its side in flames.”

Wilson added, “At first I tried to pull him out by lifting him under his armpits but he was stuck by his seatbelt and belt loop.  I asked God to give me one more-minute.  Shortly after this I noticed another bystander had appeared who was a nurse.  I got the driver unhooked and got him out of the cab to a safe spot off the turnpike within minutes of the truck exploding.”

When asked what was running through his mind while trying to free the driver within moments of a fiery explosion which could have killed them both, Wilson explained, “I believe instantly my heart rate spiked from a resting heart rate to probably 160-180 beats per minute.  This is when the fight or flight syndrome happens.”

The fight or flight syndrome, or ‘fight or flight reflex,’ happens when a person experiences drastic bodily changes when presented with a threat.

“For instance, I thought I was moving slow similar to the beach scene in the Tom Hanks movie, ‘Saving Private Ryan.’  After the incident I asked my wife if was I moving slowly and she said, quite the opposite; moving extremely fast.  The thought of being killed never crossed my mind.  I was just asking God to give me one more minute which I asked him several times before I got the driver out of his cab.”

Mr. Wilson credits his actions to his training.

“In my opinion, in a time of crisis like this a person will react to one’s training that is in their muscle memory,” said the retired Air Force Security Forces Master Sergeant.

In recognition of his heroic action Wilson was awarded the Air Force Civilian Award for Valor at a recent ceremony on base presented by Col. Carl Magnusson, 914th Air Refueling Wing commander, and signed by then Secretary of the Air Force, Barbara Barrett.

The humble security forces member knew that an award was submitted but didn’t think it would have gone all the way up to the desk of the Secretary of the Air Force.

Col. Magnusson added, “One of my favorite quotes is from Winston Churchill who said, ‘The Reservist is twice the citizen.’ Randy lives his dual lifetime commitments to his community and to the defense of our great nation every single day.  He stands as a contemporary role model of Twice the Citizen.”

Mr. Wilson made sure that the driver was in safe hands with paramedics before continuing his journey home.  He later learned that the two individuals were transported to a hospital with head and back, but not life threatening injuries.