Marine Col. Carlos Urbina was having lunch with a friend in a restaurant on the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia, on Nov. 14 when he started to feel unwell.
The colonel, who serves as the director of the command element of the Capabilities Development Directorate’s information division, thought nothing of it at first. But then he went into sudden cardiac arrest, he told reporters.
Luckily for Urbina, also eating lunch at the S&G restaurant were Air Force doctor Capt. Jennifer Fields and Marine Cpl. Chase Portello.
Fields rushed to him, and Portello — who got his EMT training in 2018 while a firefighter in Fort Mill, South Carolina — followed to offer his help.
“There’s a Marine that needs help,” Portello recalled thinking. “I know I can, so I got up and helped.”
The pair moved Urbina to the ground. The officer’s airway wasn’t fully open, and they couldn’t find a pulse.
Fields and Portello started CPR, switching off who was doing the compressions and breaths, the corporal recalled. Portello asked onlookers to call 911 and get a defibrillator, which first responders later used to administer electric shocks to the colonel.
When the fire department arrived, Portello continued to help the first responders treat Urbina before they transported him to a local hospital.
Urbina survived. Doctors later told him that Portello and Fields helped save his life, Urbina told reporters.
Once he was back on his feet, the colonel went to the local fire house multiple times to thank each firefighter individually, he told reporters. One gave him the name of the Marine who saved his life.
At a Dec. 16 ceremony at Quantico, Portello received a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for helping save Urbina’s life, with the colonel himself presenting him the award and pinning it to his chest.
Portello has previously earned the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, Armed Forces Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, making this month’s award his highest. He is a member of Military Police with Marine Helicopter Squadron One, the unit that transports the U.S. president.
Receiving the medal from Urbina was “a blessing,” Portello told reporters.
“In my whole experience I never got to see someone I treated after the fact,” he said. “It was just really cool to see him here living, walking around and with his family.”
Urbina said he doesn’t believe in coincidences — not even the presence of a Marine with life-saving skills in the restaurant at the moment he went into cardiac arrest.
“I do believe that Marines are always ready,” he told reporters. “I was obviously surrounded by Marines. But in all honesty, most importantly, I think that it was an act of God.”
Correction: This article was updated to reflect that Urbina had no discernible pulse when he was first treated and that first responders used the defibrillator on Urbina.
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.