By WO1 David Brown
Mesquite, TX - Members of the Texas State Guard (TXSG) are prepared to deploy on short notice when civilian officials request assistance. Sometimes, the call to assist fellow Texans doesn’t come with a formal request, as a group of Texas State Guard soldiers from the 3rd Brigade discovered, en route to help Hurricane Laura evacuees.
Before sunrise on the wet morning of September 2nd, five Guardsmen from the 3rd Brigade were traveling to an assignment at a hurricane shelter hub in Mesquite, east of Dallas. As their van slipped through the light morning traffic of I-635 east of Dallas, CPT Lawrence Norotsky saw something ahead. Traffic was suddenly slowing and cars were veering across lanes to avoid a large obstacle. Norotsky directed the van’s driver, SFC Steven Lozano to pull over to a safe location.
Scattered across the left three lanes of the highway was an SUV, parts of the bodywork mashed, one door ripped from its frame, bits of glass and plastic all around. Not far behind it was a badly damaged four-door sedan, steam rising from its mangled front end, leaking fluids of some sort. The car’s airbags had inflated around its driver. The driver had managed to get out of his vehicle; his lower lip was bleeding, and he was complaining of chest pains.
The young woman driving the SUV had managed to get out of her vehicle as well, but neither driver was safe. “On our arrival”, Norotsky says, “the witnesses and vehicle occupants were moving in and out of dangerous traffic.
The Guard members’ training kicked in. Texans who take the oath of the Texas State Guard, one of the three branches of the Texas Military Department, not only commit themselves to ongoing emergency and disaster management education, but often bring in years of real-world experience and specialized skills.
Norotsky, who in civilian life is the Assistant Fire Chief of the Ingleside Volunteer Fire Department, unofficially assumed the role of Incident Commander. Making a 360-degree assessment of the situation, he directed Lozano, PV2 Ruben Garza of Harlingen, and PFC Michael Ward of San Angelo to begin directing traffic away from the accident scene. Norotsky approached the occupants of the apparent crash to perform triage, directing CPL Matthew Kotara to do a detailed examination of the 76-year-old driver of the sedan.
Kotara, a trained Emergency Medical Technician, says he needed to ensure the driver of the sedan did not have life threatening injuries. “The biggest concern for me, because the airbags deployed, and because of his age, was to make sure that he did not have a flail chest, collapsed lungs, any type of puncture wounds or signs of a concussion,” said the TXSG Medical Unit veteran. “He was bruised and disoriented, but (there were) no signs of life-threatening problems or injuries.” Kotara remained with the driver to comfort him and to ready a report for first responders who would eventually arrive at the scene.
Norotsky had determined that there were no fuel leaks or apparent fire hazards, but the weather conditions and the traffic on the multi-lane highway still posed considerable risks to life. Lozano, Garza and Ward directed occupants of the vehicles involved and witnesses downstream from the wrecked cars to the median, creating an effective safety buffer and getting pedestrians out of the way of traffic. “Our uniforms gave us the perceived authority to take charge and bring order to the chaos,” Norotsky said, crediting the TXSG’s required Incident Command Training and the Guard’s military structure for effectively reducing further dangers and removing any sense of panic.
Soon, an off-duty police officer pulled up on-scene and provided the TXSG team with flares. Norotsky turned over Incident Command to the first arriving Fire Engine Company Officer, providing a full report. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured in the incident.
Lozano, whose civilian job is with the Border Patrol, credits the diverse backgrounds of all involved as having made the unassigned mission-within-a-mission a success. “I truly believe all Guardsmen...bring with us a wealth of knowledge and experience from our lives outside the Guard.” This advantage is one reason TXSG recruiters are always on the lookout for Texans with a variety of skills and career specialties ranging from law enforcement to information technology, science, engineering, education, medicine, construction and more.
Although the TXSG may be best known for their decades of providing relief during major emergencies like Hurricane Harvey - and, more recently, Hurricane Laura, - troops never ‘let their guard down’. While routine traffic accidents seldom get much media attention, the incident along I-635 serves as an important reminder that the Guard’s mission as “Texans serving Texas” never sleeps.
Several Texans in potential danger received quick, expert assistance on that rainy morning of September 2nd, 2020. Just another day of service for the members of the 3rd Brigade, Texas State Guard.