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Spc. Norman P. Portillo, left, and Spc. Nathan A. Bird, of the 36th Signal Battalion, have been nominated for Army Achievement Medals after assisting an injured South Korean motorist.

Spc. Norman P. Portillo, left, and Spc. Nathan A. Bird, of the 36th Signal Battalion, have been nominated for Army Achievement Medals after assisting an injured South Korean motorist. (Courtesy of U.S. Army)

SEOUL — What started as a pesky traffic jam turned into an adrenaline-fueled 10-minute rescue Monday, with two U.S. soldiers aiding an injured South Korean motorist.

Spc. Nathan A. Bird and Spc. Norman P. Portillo, both of Camp Walker’s Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 36th Signal Battalion, were on a routine maintenance support trip to Kunsan Air Base when they hit a small traffic jam on Highway 1.

As they crept forward, they realized the car stalled in the lane had been in some sort of accident.

It was “dented in pretty good,” said Bird. He said he “could see the right front passenger tire was … sideways, not upright.”

When the soldiers, and the two South Korean support personnel in the car with them, realized no one was assisting the accident victims, they jumped into action.

Portillo, the first to reach the window, said he was shocked by what he saw.

A passenger had flesh “about the size of a softball missing from his elbow” and was bleeding through the open fracture, he said.

Portillo used his uniform belt as a tourniquet while Bird removed his uniform T-shirt and pressed it to the wound to help stanch the flow of blood.

Both Bird and Portillo credit their military training for preparing them to react.

“I did have the initial shock,” Bird said, but “within half a second to a second my training did kick in. It’s part of the combat task training that we do with our unit.”

While they worked on the passenger, the South Korean workers helped translate, the soldiers said. The driver and the other two passengers in the car were shaken up — “a couple of bruises here and there,” Portillo said.

Portillo said that the injured man understood immediately they were there to help.

He “saw the uniform” and “knew we could help,” Portillo said.

Rescue personnel arrived after 10 minutes, the soldiers said.

They spent a good chunk of the next three hours in the car discussing the incident.

Portillo said they talked about the “initial shock, the rush, the adrenaline.”

Capt. Robert Collins, company commander, said he was proud to learn his troops assisted at the scene and submitted them both for Army Achievement Medals.

“It felt good to know that we had a couple of soldiers trained well enough to react as they did,” he said.

The soldiers said the last thing they thought about was earning medals.

“We were just doing our job,” Portillo said. “Just helping out a fellow human being.”

Bird later phoned the news home to his family.

“My mother is very proud of me right now,” he said.


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