News>Through Airmen's eyes: Combat medic shares story about 'just doing his job'
Staff Sgt. Warren Williamson Jr., and Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment, Bravo Company, pose for a photo during their deployment in Afghanistan last year. Williamson received NCO Association Vanguard Award during the NCO Association annual convention in Las Vegas, Nev., July 12, 2012, for his heroic actions during his deployment. Williamson is a medic with the 18th Medical Operations Squadron. (Courtesy photo)
Staff Sgt. Warren Williamson Jr., sits in his "office," an ambulance, at Kadena Air Base, Japan, July 24, 2012. Williamson was recently awarded the NCO Association Vanguard Award, for his heroic actions that saved the lives of others during a deployment to Afghanistan last year. Williamson is a medic with the 18th Medical Operations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sara Csurilla)
Staff Sgt. Warren Williamson Jr., a medic with the 18th Medical Operations Squadron, and Army Master Sgt. Chris Demars pose with Williamson's Vanguard Award at the NCO Association's annual convention in Las Vegas, Nev., July 12, 2012. Williamson received the award for his heroic actions that saved the life of Demars, Williamson's first sergeant during their deployment in Afghanistan last year. Williamson is a medic with the 18th Medical Operations Squadron and Demars is 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry. (Courtesy photo)
by Staff Sgt. Sara Csurilla and Airman Tara A. Williamson
18th Wing Public Affairs
7/26/2012 - KADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)
Even though it was only one of more than 300 combat missions he was a part of while deployed last year, it was a day he will never forget. On that day, he could have lost everything.
"We were used to getting hit," said Staff Sgt. Warren Williamson Jr., a medic with the 18th Medical Operations Squadron. "But that day ... that day was different."
For his year-long day deployment to Afghanistan, he was sent to a forward operating base located in the Laghman Province of Afghanistan to be the sole medic for a group of Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment, Bravo Company.
"I was the primary doctor, the sole provider there," said the Chesapeake, Va., native. "Dismounted elements wouldn't leave the truck without the doc, without me. I escorted all dismounted missions away from the convoy."
Williamson said the day began like any other.
"That morning we headed out on a mounted combat patrol to a 'green' district, meaning there wasn't a whole lot of Taliban activity," he recalled.
The team's mission was to provide security for a few civil engineer officers checking out a courthouse in a local district that had been rocketed by the Taliban.
"At the same time, I was to meet with the district hospital medical provider there and discuss some medical issues," Williamson said.
The courthouse mission lasted two hours. His team parked the convoy and dismounted. The engineers walked and measured the perimeter of the district, ending the fairly smooth mission, without incidents, around 10 a.m.
"We were getting ready to mount back up and continue on for my mission to meet the doctor," he said. "But first we had to maneuver our trucks so that they weren't blocking traffic. Although some Soldiers were in the trucks, most were still on foot, guiding the trucks and pulling security."
By maneuvering, the group became vulnerable.
"As we were prepping to move the trucks, we were caught off-guard," he continued. "Before we knew what was happening, an Afghan had gotten on his motorcycle, rode right through our formation and detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, instantly killing himself, injuring my guys and killing a bunch of his (own people)."
More than 10 people were killed that day.
"We were knocked unconscious. I'm not sure how many of us were on the ground, to be honest, but when I looked up, it was just ... chaos. I can't describe it any other way."
Williamson and his team were no strangers to getting attacked. But he knew this time was different. It was the worst they've experienced in the six months they had already been deployed.
"When I came to, the dust hadn't even settled yet and all I could hear were screams and a group of my guys dragging one of the Soldiers closer to me screaming 'Doc, doc!'," explained the medic, who spent two years training with Air Force pararescuemen. "As they got closer, I got to my feet and helped get that Soldier to the safest place I could, to treat his wounds, because at that point we had started taking small-arms fire as well."
Behind a small dirt wall, shielded from incoming fire, Williamson did everything he could to keep his Soldiers alive.
"I used gauze and bandages, gave him drugs and fluid, and right after I applied a tourniquet to his arm, when," he paused, this time taking a deep breath. "When I heard them calling for me again."
While one victim was stable for the moment, Williamson's job was far from over.
"I ran over to my first sergeant, who I thought was dead," he recalled. "I didn't see him breathing, I didn't see him yelling or screaming. I just saw huge holes in him. He was laid out."
Williamson knew he had to take action quickly. But as his team started taking fire once again, Williamson did the only thing he could and hurled his body over his first sergeant, knowing he had to protect him.
"I didn't know where the attack was coming from and it was just my first reaction," Williamson said. "It's my job to keep those guys healthy."
"But we found a way to move my first sergeant to a safe place and I got to work, trying to save this man's life," he continued. "I used everything I had; QuikClot, tourniquets, bandages, drugs, and every last drop of the fluids I had. All I could think was 'Stop the bleeding, save this person's life.'"
"Gosh, it's been just over a year ago now, and I've only ever told that story once," he said.
Williamson said, that while the firefight only lasted 10 minutes, when he looks back on this event it feels like he's watching an "old slow-motion movie reel." But at the time it seemed like mere seconds.
Thanks to Williamson's quick thinking, dedication and selflessness, every Soldier survived that day, they survived every mission even, and returned home to their families.
His actions that day have earned him the Army Commendation Medal with Valor and as a result, the NCO Association Vanguard Award, an award that recognizes NCOs who have performed a heroic act, on or off duty, saving lives or preventing further injury.
"It's kind of weird that somebody submitted me for an award that involves saving a life, when that's really what my job is (about)," the 10-year veteran said. "They did their job, keeping me safe, so I just kind of returned the favor, I think."
He and four other winners of the Vanguard Award, one from each branch of service, were recognized by Lee Greenwood, a country music singer, at the NCO Association's annual convention in Las Vegas, July 12.
For Williamson, the highlight of the night was reuniting with an old friend, the first sergeant he helped save.
"I was honored to be at the Vanguard ceremony when Staff Sgt. Williamson received the award," said Army Master Sgt. Chris Demars, with the 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry, and first sergeant of Williamson's deployed team. "Monday before the award ceremony was the first time I was able to see Staff Sgt. Williamson since the day he saved my life on the battlefield."
The meeting was an emotional moment for both men.
"From an outsider perspective, seeing two grown men hugging with tears in their eyes might have seemed unorthodox," Williamson said. "But for us, in that moment, it was a perfectly normal response."
Seeing Demars now healthy, Williamson said, conjured up emotions he didn't think he'd ever feel before. He said he feels lucky to have spent four days with him and his family.
"Master Sgt. Demars was and always will be a mentor, and more than anything, a friend for life," Williamson said.
7/31/2012 7:42:16 PM ET Regardless of the color of ones uniform and when things get tough the tough get going we are always brothers. I am proud of each and every man or woman that wears the uniform of the UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES.
Jim, Columbia TN
7/31/2012 5:49:46 PM ET I got teary-eyed myself. All I ever did was teach which was a good thing but...to save someone's life...that has got to be the most monumental experience anyone could ever remember for the rest of their life. It makes me again proud to be an American.