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Four ODU ROTC Students Save the Life of a Train Accident Victim

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It's almost hard to comprehend the series of events that had to fall into place for a Navy sailor to survive getting hit by a train early on the morning of November 17.

It's abundantly clear, however, that he wouldn't have survived at all if not for the heroic actions of four Old Dominion University Naval ROTC students.

Before dawn on Saturday, the students were on their way to the rendezvous spot for the weekend-long military exercise in which they were participating. Stopped at a train crossing, the four young students witnessed the young man make an ill-advised attempt to hop the moving train.

When the man fell and was hit by the train, they sprang into action and saved his life.

"I did not think for one second. Everything I did when I was there was reactive," said Officer Candidate Roberto Piedra, a senior nursing student from Miami, Fla., who took command of the emergency rescue. "But, for my colleagues to step in like they did, young students who had never seen anything like that, it really does show what amazing things human beings can do when they collaborate."

The two front cars waiting for the train to cross that morning were occupied by Piedra and Midshipman Nicholas Howe, a sophomore history major from Bristow, Va.

Howe, a volunteer firefighter, also has EMT training. "I ran over to where the guy had fallen, and saw his legs were cut off by the thigh," Howe said. "I stabilized his head and talked to him while the other guys went to work."

Because of that weekend's military training exercise, Piedra had his medical gear. "It's unbelievable. I was packing up the night before, getting ready for cuts and bruises," Piedra said. "I looked at my trauma kit and thought 'What the heck. I'll bring that, too.' It even had two tourniquets. Without them, that guy probably would have bled out."

Two other students, Midshipman Patrick Clark, a mechanical engineering student from Alexandria, Va., and Alex Asta, a Platoon Leaders Course candidate and criminal justice and sociology student from Vienna, Va., joined in the rescue effort. Asta had seen the man walk past his car, but didn't realize there had been an incident until he saw fellow uniformed students running to and from their cars, grabbing supplies. He didn't recognize at first that the uniformed men were his colleagues from ODU.

"I didn't know who the other guys were. I just saw the uniforms. You can't hesitate in this kind of situation; you have to help." Asta handed Piedra bandages and other medical supplies while he worked on the victim's legs, then they all waited for the emergency responders to arrive on scene. "It seemed like forever," Asta said.

Piedra said his nursing education at Old Dominion University, in particular courses with instructor Karen Ackley, has helped him refine his skills. "She was pivotal in my transition to student and becoming a nurse," Piedra said.

After the victim was transported to the hospital, the four ODU students remained behind, speaking to investigators. A few hours later, word came back that he was likely to survive the accident. "That was an incredible feeling. The thought that, collectively, we helped save his life," Asta said.

But there wasn't any time to pat themselves on the back. "We spent 36 hours out in the field after that, on our exercise. Hiking 12 miles, practicing with IED simulations," Howe said. "We're always on duty."

Capt. Thomas Halley, Commanding Officer of the Hampton Roads Naval ROTC, said reactions like early Saturday morning is exactly what his staff hopes to train their students to do.

"If events happen like that, we want to be prepared and dive right in," Halley said. "We don't want to be the people looking as we drive by, we want to be the ones taking action. That's why I'm so proud of them."

Incredibly, this is the second time in 2012 that Naval ROTC students from Old Dominion University have sprung into action to save lives of people they had never met.

In February, two Naval ROTC students helped rescue a woman and her young son from a burning vehicle on Interstate 264 in Norfolk. OC Joshua Moore and Midshipman Jason Benning came across a vehicle on the shoulder, facing back toward oncoming traffic, with the front smashed in and flames flickering out of the twisted metal.

Along with a few other motorists, Benning and Moore pulled the driver out of the vehicle, then went back to the smoking car when they heard a crying child. They freed the child from his car seat and brought him to safety a minute before the car burst into flames.

The common thread of both acts of heroism is that the young ROTC students did what needed to be done.

"This wasn't about me. This wasn't about us," Piedra said. "We represent the United States Navy and those who came before us."