Prepare and prevent, don't repair and repent

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Michael Wilke
  • 56th Fighter Wing OL-A superintendent
"Don't move...don't move, lay still. Can you wiggle your fingers? Toes? Where are you hurt?"

This is how the first day of the Memorial Day weekend went for me.

My friend, Tech. Sgt. Brian Schmitt, came down from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., to do some trail riding with me in Cloudcroft, N.M., over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. We drove down to Willie White Trail (T113), parked, unloaded our all-terrain vehicles, and prepared for a full day of trail riding. We strapped on our helmets, put our gloves on, and headed off up the trail.

The Willie White Trail 113 is an historic railroad grade converted into a U.S. Forest Service Trail that follows the old steam engine route. Hikers, mountain bikers, people riding motorcycles, ATVs, or riding horseback, as well as free-range cattle use this trail. The trail, approximately five feet wide, starts a gradual climb up one side of the canyon, horseshoeing about a quarter mile back to the other side of the canyon. We encountered one of the trails users, a free-range bull (moo type), that was standing in the horseshoe of the trail we were heading down. The bull startled and ran up the trail we needed to follow, so we backed up and allowed the bull to walk back down and exit the trail. The bull got off the trail, so we proceeded on. I passed the bull by about 15 feet, and out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the bull move. I turned around to see what the bull was doing, to make sure he wasn't charging me, and managed to steer to the right of the trail onto the embankment/slope of the mountain. I tried correcting once I realized what was going on, but the embankment/slope was too steep.

The next thing I remember was Brian telling me to lay still don't move, and him applying the skills and training all Airmen are taught... SABC (self-aid and buddy care). Brian ensured I didn't have any neck or back injuries before helping me to sit up. Once we determined I didn't have any serious injuries, I took my helmet off and sat there for a bit. We both checked our cell-phones, and we had no coverage, so I hiked the quarter mile back to the truck with Brian following behind me. Once we got back to the truck Brian drove down Sunspot highway until I had reception, I called 9-1-1 and waited for the emergency response technicians. I ended up being air lifted to University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, because of my minor concussion.

Thankfully, all of the CT scans were good with no head trauma. I have a Grade III acromioclavicular joint separation, a fractured lower right rib, and a bruised clavicle, but I'm alive.

I owe this to a couple important things: my wingman (Brian) and my personal protective gear (helmet, gloves, full covering clothes, and boots). My wingman helped me after the accident by assessing my injuries, helping me up and back to the truck, and driving me to an area with cell phone coverage to call for help. My helmet took the impact of the rocks during the crash, and if I hadn't been wearing my helmet, my head would have surely been split wide open and things would've been really bad, maybe even tragic.

I took away a few things from this: I need to install rearview mirrors on my quad, full face helmets save lives, ALWAYS have a wingman with you, don't take your eye off the trail, and eat more steak (reduces the cow population)! I have since purchased a full-face helmet for when I ride my Harley-Davidson. I am a firm believer in the full protective gear, not just my brain protection.