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131st Airmen help motorists after two weekend early-morning accidents

Seatbelts can save lives.  Buckle up no matter how far you're travelling, and ensure all passengers do the same.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tabatha Zarrella/Released)

Seatbelts can save lives. Buckle up no matter how far you're travelling, and ensure all passengers do the same. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Tabatha Zarrella/Released)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo -- Three Missouri Air National Guardsmen from the 131st Bomb Wing Airmen were the first to stop and render aid at the scenes of two separate single-vehicle accidents over the Jan 11-12 drill weekend.

Early Saturday morning, on his way to Whiteman to report to unit training assembly, Maj. James Ashlock, chief of wing plans, saw a vehicle skid on ice and roll over multiple times before landing upside-down in the median.

Ashlock immediately pulled his vehicle over and responded to the emergency by contacting the authorities and freeing the driver from the wreckage.

"It was so surreal to watch it all unfold," Ashlock said. "The car was badly damaged and I was just hoping that somehow no one was hurt."

Other motorists, including fellow 131st member Airman 1st Class Venecia Thelin, an aircrew flight equipment technician, also pulled over at the scene. Thelin stopped because she didn't see any medical personnel on the scene yet.

"As an Airman, they teach us that you are responsible for others; the Wingman concept," Thelin said. "I didn't really have time to think about it, I just stopped."

Ashlock, Thelin and a third person administered basic first-aid until authorities arrived.

In a similar, but separate accident, Tech. Sgt Jacqueline Payne, noncommissioned officer in-charge of career enhancements, noticed a vehicle turned on its side, situated on the edge of the highway near a tree line.

Payne made a quick U-turn and pulled up near the site of the crash. Turning on her high-beam headlights and her flashers to warn passing vehicles, she then dialed 911. The emergency dispatcher advised Payne to investigate the scene.

"My heart was racing as I approached the vehicle," Payne said, "I had no idea what to expect."

Another concerned motorist stopped his vehicle to offer assistance, and the two approached the truck. Payne said the victim appeared to be in mild shock, but had no apparent serious injuries. Payne and her fellow good Samaritan helped the victim out of the vehicle and into Payne's to keep him out of the elements until medical personnel and police arrived.

"I acted because I pray to God that someone would stop if I was ever in that situation," she said.

It is essential to have a heighten awareness of safety and situational awareness during the winter months, said Lt. Col. Ross Pease, 131st BW chief of safety.

Pease also highlighted the importance of safety-related training, including the self-aid and buddy care first aid all Airmen receive.

"We tend to rush through training thinking we will never need it," Pease said. "In these cases, our Airmen were prepared use their military training to assist fellow citizens."

According to the Ashlock and Payne, the drivers of both vehicles involved were wearing seatbelts.

"I think that we have come a long way with the emphasis of seat-belt safety in the military," Pease said. "I hope it is becoming a way of life and part of our culture, because it does save lives."