Student saves 2 lives, receives medal
Story by A1C Abbey Rieves on 04/04/2019
GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas That weekend started as any usual three day weekend in October 2018 for 2nd Lt. Jordan Weum, 315th Training Squadron student and his three friends. They planned to spend Columbus Day weekend backpacking the Carson National Forest in New Mexico.
With tents packed and boot laces tied, the military group hiked nearly six miles up the narrow paths of Trampas Lake Trail without the slightest idea what the next 48 hours would hold.
Now, nearly six months later, Weum was presented more than just a diploma at his technical training graduation from Goodfellow Air Force Base.
“Lieutenant Weum’s courage under pressure saved two lives,” said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Williams, 315th Training Squadron instructor. “By his prompt action and humanitarian regard for his fellow man, Lieutenant Weum has reflected credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”
In 2018, as the plans unfolded for the backpacking trip, Weum didn’t expect the seemingly normal and sunny October morning to take a turn for the worst.
“The day we got out there, it was beautiful,” Weum recalled his hike. “But as the day went on, it got pretty windy as we climbed up in elevation.”
With a late start to the hike, Weum and his friends finished the near 6-mile hike to the top as the sun was setting.
As the sun withered into darkness, Weum said that he and his friends pitched their two tents in a suitable spot to camp for the night. Besides the additional two tents of fellow hikers a hundred yards out, the mountain was empty from society.
With stars dotting across the otherwise dark sky, the weather turned cold and even windier than the day.
“As we were sleeping in the tent, the poles were actually bending inward during the night,” said Weum, who has experienced multiple nights camping in a tent. “It was also super loud. That night felt like we were in a wind tunnel. We didn’t get the best sleep that night.”
Despite his lack of sleep, Weum woke early to the sound of commotion outside his tent.
“There were multiple trees that fell that night, it could have landed on any one of our tents,” said Weum, his eyes rounding at the thought of his memory. “A tree had fallen at about 5:30 a.m. on the other family’s tent. It had pinned them inside when it happened. Luke and Meredith were a married couple from Amarillo, and they were out there with their four children. Luckily, the children were in a different tent when the tree fell, and their son was able to come get us.”
After arriving at the neighbor’s crushed tent, Weum and his friends were able to reach Luke and Meredith and assess their injuries by removing the tree and cutting open the tent.
“We didn’t want to move them, because we feared spinal injuries,” said Weum, his hands bouncing to the flow of his words. “After we decided to get help, the first thing I did was to get my stuff and run back down the mountain. We had no cell phone service up there and the whole way down I was checking for service, but nothing. It was remote in the mountains and pretty high up.”
By the time Weum made it down the mountain, got into his car and drove back to town for cell phone service, it was nearly 8 a.m.
“I finally was able to make contact with volunteer emergency services, and they met me where I was at on the road,” said Weum. “I led the volunteer emergency services back to the trail head.”
With the hours passing, it was critical for immediate medical assistance, but conditions didn’t allow for immediacy.
Weum said the narrow paths and hazardous, rocky terrain of the mountain prevented the volunteer emergency responders from using four-wheelers to reach Luke and Meredith. Additionally, rescue helicopters were unable to land at the top of mountain due to the canyons, trees and weather conditions.
With the lack of helicopter or four-wheeler assistance, the volunteer emergency responders made up the mountain on foot.
Weum said he sprinted ahead of the volunteer emergency services, who were slowed down by their equipment, extra food, water, and supplies up the mountain.
After already hiking nearly six miles down the mountain to get the volunteer emergency responders, Weum could have easily washed his hands of the rescue and given the reigns to the volunteers, but he continued to hike the six miles back up the mountain.
“It was the resiliency, just to keep pushing and helping other people,” said Weum, who was enlisted in the Air Force prior to commissioning. “I know it’s kind of a buzzword, but I do think that going through things like basic training helps you to keep going, even if you’re tired and exhausted. Also the Self-Aid Buddy Care training, no matter how basic it is, it’s still beneficial. Had I not been in the military, I wouldn’t have known to not move someone if their spine is injured.”
Through determination and the desire to help, Weum arrived at the top of the mountain only to find Luke and Meredith’s conditions had worsened with the near six hours of no official medical attention.
“Meredith was really not doing well,” said Weum. “And they both had been throwing up. My friend took their children down the mountain and drove them to their grandparent’s house.”
With weather conditions worsening, unsuccessful contacts to search and rescue teams and the hours ticking by, it was decided that the fastest way down the mountain for Luke and Meredith was to be carried down by the volunteers on foot.
“But there was only one stretcher,” said Weum, who joined the rotation to help carry the strecher. “The volunteer emergency responders told Luke that he’d have to walk down and they loaded Meredith onto the stretcher because she was in worse condition.”
While hiking down the mountain, the volunteer emergency responders, Weum and his friends were faced with preventing hypothermia, stabilizing broken bones, navigating the rocky terrain and racing against nightfall.
After inching their way down the mountain, Weum said they eventually crossed paths with the search and rescue crew who were hiking the mountain to meet them at about 9:30 p.m. Luke and Meredith made it down the mountain around midnight.
From the moment they woke at about 5:30 a.m. until after 9:30 p.m., Weum and his friends were dedicated to helping save Luke and Meredith’s lives.
On April 4, Weum was presented The Air Force Commendation Medal by Lt. Col. Mark Chang, 315th TRS commander, on for demonstrating courage and heroism during his hiking and camping trip.
But for Weum, it’s not about the accolades, it’s about helping people.
“I would have felt extremely guilty passing it off to the volunteer emergency responders, and not helping when I knew I could help,” said Weum, who directly saved two lives by helping for over 16 hours and hiking over 19.5 miles that day. “I think any decent person would have done what I did in that situation. And I think the four of us and their family are going to be life-long friends after that experience. It was just really humbling.”