A Marine first sergeant was driving through a small North Carolina town when he encountered a man lying in a nearby field, bearing injuries after being hit by a car.
The civilian man initially had no pulse, and bystanders told the Marine they assumed he was dead.
Then 1st Sgt. Jefferson Ortiz saved the man’s life.
“Everything that I saw led me to believe that someone needed help,” Ortiz was quoted as saying in a Tuesday Marine news story. “And that the people who were there did not understand, or were not comfortable with, providing that help. I figured that if I could make my way over there, see what was going on, and assess the situation to see if there was anything that I could do to help somebody … I wanted to do that.”
Ortiz, 38, had been driving with his wife through Vanceboro, North Carolina, toward his home in New Bern, North Carolina, on May 13 when traffic ahead of him stopped, and he noticed a crowd gathering around something in a field. The infantryman pulled over, told his wife to call 911 and began administering first aid to the injured man.
The man had been hit while he was walking up his driveway on the way to check his mailbox. A car had veered off the road and collided with his own parked car, spinning it toward the man, according to the police report of the collision.
By the time Ortiz arrived, the man had a mangled leg, showed signs of severe hemorrhaging and was cold to the touch, according to the Marine Corps. But Ortiz soon found a weak pulse while a bystander stabilized the head at the Marine’s direction.
Ortiz has been deployed to combat multiple times, including twice to Iraq. So he relied on his experience treating battlefield casualties to the man’s injuries.
“He began going through the fundamental procedures every Marine is trained to perform when treating a casualty: stop the bleeding, start the breathing, protect the wound, and treat for shock,” according to the Marine Corps release.
Ortiz fashioned a tourniquet for the man’s leg out of a bystander’s belt and a stick. He used his fingers to fish teeth out of the man’s throat, freeing up his breathing, according to the Marine Corps story.
Using a shirt from a bystander, he covered the leg wound to prevent contamination. And when first responders arrived, Ortiz helped them insert an IV into the man and load him onto a gurney and into an ambulance.
Despite his serious injuries, the man survived.
“For me, this is just business,” Ortiz said in the press release. “I was not concerned as to whether or not he was going to live. I just wanted to give him the opportunity. It was really cool to hear later on that the guy ended up making it through the first 24 hours and that eventually he lived. He was able to survive that. That was rewarding.”
“Despite his humility, and to his surprise,” according to the Marine Corps release, Ortiz received a Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal — which recognizes heroism, outstanding achievement or meritorious service — for saving the man’s life.
Ortiz joined the Marines as an infantryman in 2003 after speaking with a recruiter who came into the pet store where he worked, according the Marine Corps story.
He was deployed five times on combat missions, including in the seminal battle of Ramadi in Iraq in 2006. There, when one of his Marines was shot in the head, Ortiz carried him more than six blocks under fire, saving his life.
Ortiz is the first sergeant for Air Operations Company, Marine Wing Support Squadron 271, based in Cherry Point, North Carolina. The squadron provides ground-based support for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, which conducts air operations for the II Marine Expeditionary Force.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.