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Master Sgt. Charles Stiefken, 35, a paramedic with the 18th Operations Group, Kadena Air Base, saved the life of a 3-year-old child while on leave in Anchorage, Alaska, June 17.

Master Sgt. Charles Stiefken, 35, a paramedic with the 18th Operations Group, Kadena Air Base, saved the life of a 3-year-old child while on leave in Anchorage, Alaska, June 17. (Courtesy of USAF)

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — The quick thinking of a Kadena airman on leave in Alaska last month rescued a 3-year-old boy crushed by an overturned van.

Master Sgt. Charles Stiefken, 35, had taken part in an operational inspection of the Air National Guard’s 176th Wing and was visiting his family in Eagle River, just north of Anchorage, on June 17. That night, while driving to his dad’s house for dinner, he passed a van that was tipped onto its side in a ditch.

“At first, I thought there was no emergency, because I had just seen a sheriff’s car pass by,” he said. “But then I saw this man running around screaming and I had to stop to see if I could help.”

Stiefken later learned that the Volks- wagen van had been parked, engine still running, at the crest of a hilly driveway while the driver, Mark Spindler, 28, went back inside his house to fetch something. His son, Tidal, was inside and somehow knocked the gearshift into neutral. The van rolled down the hill and turned on its side in a ditch.

“The father was running frantically around, saying he couldn’t find his son,” Stiefken said. The airman got inside the van and found that the sliding side door had opened and the boy had been thrown out. The body of the van had fallen on the child, pinning him underneath.

“His head was crushed … I could see his lips turning blue,” said the 16-year Air Force veteran, a paramedic assigned to the 18th Operations Group. “We had to get the van off him fast.”

By then, a sheriff’s car arrived and the men managed to tip the van off the child.

That’s when Stiefken’s training as a paramedic really kicked in.

The child “wasn’t breathing and there was no pulse,” he said. “But as soon as my dad, who is a former Air Force paramedic, the sheriff’s deputy and I pushed the van off him, he got some air and had a pulse.”

Stiefken then started giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

“I breathed for him for what felt like forever, even though it turned out to be only 15 minutes before an ambulance showed up,” he said. “They took him to a hospital in Anchorage.”

He said the child hung on to life for another four days before succumbing to his serious head injuries.

“I later heard that the family donated his organs, saving the lives of five other children,” he said.

Stiefken said he’s stopped and offered help at minor traffic accidents in the past. “But they’ve never been anything like this,” he said.

“Of course, I’ve been on several search-and-rescue missions as a pararescueman,” he added. “But that’s what I do for a living.”

Stiefken, who’s married and has two boys of his own, ages 9 and 10, was given a special lifesaving award by the mayor of Anchorage and has been nominated for an airman’s medal by the 176th Wing.

“All that’s nice,” Stiefken said. “But what’s really important was I was able to help when help was needed. While everything was going on, I didn’t think of anything else than trying to get that little boy to breathe.

“But after it was all over, you know one of the first things I did later that night is call my boys back on Okinawa and tell them how much I loved them.”


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