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Airmen honored for quick thinking


PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – (From left to right) Staff Sgt. Branden Smithwick, 21st Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, Airman 1st Class Matthew Huff, 21st SFS installation entry controller, and Airman 1st Class Anthony Bustamante, 21st SFS armorer, pose for a photo, Feb. 12, 2019 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Smithwick, Huff and Bustamante reacted quickly and efficiently to an off-base vehicle rollover, ultimately saving the life of the driver. They will be presented with the American Red Cross Hometown Heroes Military Hero Award for their actions above and beyond the call of duty. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Emily Kenney)


Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at Peterson Air Force Base the evening of Nov. 20, 2018, as Airman 1st Class Matthew Huff, 21st Security Forces Squadron installation entry controller, Staff Sgt. Branden Smithwick, 21st SFS military working dog handler, and Airman 1st Class Anthony Bustamante, 21st SFS Armory, prepared to close down the Peterson AFB East Gate at about 6:15 p.m.

Their job was interrupted when a vehicle pulled up near their patrol cars. A Jeep had rolled over into a ditch on Marksheffel Road, near the perimeter of Peterson AFB, the driver said.

“The individual let us know that a vehicle did an illegal U-turn and the victim ended up swerving to miss the vehicle,” Smithwick said. “Her wheels caught a patch of grass, causing the vehicle to flip over.”

The first thing Bustamante saw after arriving on scene was an older-model Jeep lying on its side near the fence line, he said. The second thing was a pair of Converse sneakers pinned against the fence.

Possible consequences never entered Huff’s mind when he decided to jump the fence to reach the woman pinned beneath the Jeep, he said. Bustamante and Smithwick soon followed.

“I understood there could be consequences for me jumping that fence, but the fact that someone’s life was in danger – I didn’t really care,” Huff said. “I would have taken whatever consequences that would have come my way in order to save her life.”

Smithwick and Bustamante both had similar thought processes, they said.

“I just remember thinking, ‘Let’s lift this vehicle off of her,’” Bustamante said.

Using Bustamante’s knife, Smithwick cut the woman free from her seatbelt before they lifted the Jeep off her. The Airmen’s training took over from there.

“No one was told to do something,” Huff said. “Everyone just kind of knew what to do.”

Smithwick covered the woman with jackets to keep her warm and provided Self-Aid Buddy Care until the Peterson Fire Department arrived on scene. Bustamante kept dispatchers apprised of the situation via radio, and Huff helped direct traffic so emergency vehicles could safely enter and exit the scene.

The gravity of the situation did not sink in until after the woman was taken to the hospital, Huff said.

“After, I was in shock, like, ‘I just did this?’ Then I was thinking, ‘I hope she’s OK,’ because she is someone’s daughter, so I wanted her to be able to go home to her family,” Huff said. “It was a rollercoaster of emotions. Everything was going through my head.”

The Airmen were able to meet the woman they saved three days later once she had come out of surgery. They exchanged hugs and handshakes with the woman’s parents before sitting down to talk to her.

“You could see the tears coming. Everybody was super emotional,” Bustamante said. “We were happy to see that she was OK. It was a breath of fresh air.”

Situations like these underscore the importance of training, Bustamante said.

“Between flights and our weekly training, we constantly trained, and that’s what we do it for,” he said. “We can look back and say, ‘Oh, we should have done this differently,’ but at the end of the day, we did save a life, and I think that the training that we do have – we couldn’t be any better.”

The three Airmen will be presented with the American Red Cross Hometown Heroes Military Hero Award during a ceremony at 6 p.m. today, March 14, at The Broadmoor, 1 Lake Ave. in Colorado Springs.

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