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Airman saves life amidst mass shooting

Dr. Nathaniel Ott, an Air Force Reserve instructor in Air University’s LeMay Center Joint Integration directorate, stands in his scrubs at his civilian-capacity career as an ER physician in Odessa, Texas. Ott was on-scene during a mass-shooting incident in Odessa on Aug. 31, 2019, and provided life-saving first-aid to a victim who had sustained three gunshot wounds while in her vehicle.

Dr. Nathaniel Ott, an Air Force Reserve instructor in Air University’s LeMay Center Joint Integration directorate, stands in his scrubs at his civilian-capacity career as an ER physician in Odessa, Texas. Ott was on-scene during a mass shooting incident in Odessa, Aug. 31, 2019, and provided life-saving first aid to a victim who had sustained three gunshot wounds while in her vehicle. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)


An Air Force Reserve member was working in a civilian capacity in Odessa, Texas, August 31, and helped provide life-saving first-aid to a woman suffering from three gunshot wounds.

Lt. Col. Nathaniel Ott, an instructor in Air University’s LeMay Center Joint Integration directorate, was working as an emergency room physician when he heard a “pop” from outside. Ott walked toward the nurses’ station, heard three more distinctive “pop” sounds and stepped outside to see a vehicle with nearby police attempting to assist the driver.

“I ran out across the field to where the vehicle was and, in the driver’s seat, was a young woman who had been shot from the passenger side; there were holes in the passenger side of her car,” Ott said. “She was bleeding pretty profusely and her arm had been broken.”

A paramedic on the scene had put a tourniquet on her arm to help control the bleeding. Ott assessed her condition and concluded the victim needed to be transported to a trauma center. He knew a blood transfusion was the only way to save her life and the ER where he was working is not equipped with blood products or trauma surgeons.

One of the officers on the scene asked Ott if they should wait for an ambulance or get the victim into her police cruiser. The pair decided the victim couldn’t wait and needed to be transported immediately. While the officer and paramedic were assisting the victim, Ott ran back into the ER, grabbed IV components, brought a nurse with him and began working to turn the cruiser into an impromptu ambulance.

“Ambulances have a lot of restrictions on what they can do if there’s an active-shooter situation and the police don’t, so that allowed the patient to get to the hospital quickly,” Ott said. “We then worked on transferring the patient. She was pretty weak and could only sort of stand up with us providing support. We got her into the back seat of the cruiser and the paramedic got into the other side, began working on getting an IV in and the cruiser took off.”

Despite the shooter having left the area initially, the group wasn’t completely safe.

“While we were working on getting the patient transferred, the shooter drives by in front of us, maybe 30 feet away,” said Ott. “Fortunately, he wasn’t shooting at that time and there were quite a few police officers chasing him. It was chaotic. It’s one of those things you don’t really think about in that moment; you just sort of go and focus on your task.”

After passing by, the shooter pulled into a parking lot right next to the facility where Ott was working.

“We had patients in our ER and a police officer said, ‘Hey, you can’t go back there,’ and we told him, ‘Look, we have patients we have to take care of,’” Ott said. “They let us take a circuitous route around the gunfire to get back.”

The victim made it to the hospital and was in recovery.

Following the event, Ott made a point of taking care of what was important in his own life.

“What was next for me was wanting to hug my wife, Terah, and our five kiddos,” said Ott. “They were out of town at the time and took a few days to get back, but it just felt so good to hold them. It puts things in perspective.”

Before his transition from active duty to the Air Force Reserve, Ott served 13 years as an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot. He then went to medical school and became an emergency physician.

“I can definitely say that training as a fighter pilot and then a year getting mortared in Iraq developed in me the ability to focus on a task and not worry about what else is going on,” Ott said. “Just focus on getting the job done in spite of everything else.”


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