The phrase “look for the helpers – you will always find people who are helping,” coined by Nancy Rogers, has become a moniker for hope following disaster or tragedy in the U.S. where often times, members of the Army National Guard act as some of the first to respond.
Earlier this year, one Hoosier citizen-soldier stood up as that beacon of hope and acted as that helper during a shooting in Baltimore.
While mobilized to Fort Meade, Maryland, Indiana Army National Guard Sgt. Kent G. Willman worked as an operations noncommissioned officer with the 127th Cyber Protection Battalion. He was visiting Baltimore’s Inner Harbour with a group of friends when gunshots rang out at the waterfront promenade in May. Off duty and in civilian clothes, Willman responded quickly and selflessly amid chaos to aid a wounded victim.
“My military training and experience definitely aided in the way that I responded, because I’ve been in situations before in the past throughout my training where I had to learn how to react quickly and efficiently without any discrepancies,” said Willman, of Carmel.
Realizing his group was in danger, Willman immediately directed his friends to safety inside a nearby store while quickly assessing and ensuring the safety of his companions. As bystanders fled the scene, one motionless person remained – and that is when William leapt into action again. Leaving the safety of the store’s cover, Willman ran back out to the public square of the historic seaport, knowing the shooter remained in the vicinity.
“My first initial thought was making sure everybody I was with was safe and behind some sort of cover,” Willman said. “And then my next thought, well it wasn’t really much of a thought, I just kind of reacted based off of instinct and went back on my training.”
The training that prepared Willman in his response came from Basic Combat Training that every new soldier attends and the National Guard’s Basic Combat Lifesaver course. Willman attended the lifesaver course twice in his career while serving in a combat arms role prior to joining the cyber protection battalion. Through this course, soldiers receive specialized training in responses to lung injuries, external hemorrhages, spinal injuries, bullet and fragment injuries, and respiratory failure.
As the first person to arrive to the victim, Willman immediately assessed the injuries and provided first aid, just as he learned in his military combat lifesaver classes.
Willman attributed his confidence and quick thinking to his military training.
“Without really thinking, I ran out to him and started to administer some help. By using my training, I had remembered to start feeling for a wound,” said Willman.
Shortly after reaching the victim, a local security guard ran out and aided Willman, who continued to address injuries. Willman then directed cardiopulmonary resuscitation procedures to the security guard while reassuring the victim until EMTs arrived and took the victim to the hospital.
“Because of my training I was at least able to give him a chance,” Willman stated.
Taking the action to help during an emergency reaffirms Willman’s, and the Indiana National Guard’s, commitment to being always ready, always there.
The mobilized battalion’s operations officer in charge and Willman’s immediate supervisor, Capt. Cooper C. Allen, said Willman’s act of heroism upheld the civic virtues and values outlined in the Army’s oath of enlistment.
“We’re always on duty once you take that oath of office,” said Allen. “If you have the ability to support your fellow citizen in your community, you have the moral and ethical obligation to do so, and Sgt. Willman embodied that completely,” he added.
While Willman’s previous combat arms roles and specialized training provided the skills and knowledge used in his response in Baltimore, his recent intelligence and operations roles bolstered the citizen-soldier’s work experience and resume for his future civilian employment outside of the uniform. Willman also said the Indiana Army National Guard gave him more than a deep-seated will to help others, transferable life skills, and academic knowledge.
“I’ve had jobs in the past where I’ve had good coworkers that end up being good friends; but in the military, I’ve had good friends that end up being, just, family to me. And I’ve learned a lot, just in my particular situation, while being able to pivot from one [job] to a completely different job,” said Willman.
Allen, of Fishers, said the National Guard’s unique federal and state dual missions provides service members the ability to serve the military in different capacities while simultaneously living in the community as a civilian. Individuals serve part time at home or full time while activated on orders.
“As a Guardsman, we have the opportunity to serve the communities we live in, which is very unique. It’s very hard to find the opportunity to serve the people that you live around in a direct way, whether that’s a natural disaster or any state of emergency,” said Allen. “I can tell you now that you won’t find more job satisfaction working in any other sense of community if you’re not in uniform.”
The cyber protection battalion service members closed their mobilization and returned to their Hoosier roots shortly before Thanksgiving.
Despite the change in duty status and location, the Indiana Army National Guard soldiers will continue to train part time on technical occupational skills and specialized lifesaving skills in order to be the first responder and beacon of hope in future times of need.