CAMP SMITH TRAINING SITE, N.Y. - National Guard members spend countless hours every year training for the next big mission. For Spc. Nicole McKenzie that mission wasn't overseas – it was just below an overpass on her way home from the Yonkers, New York, armory on Aug. 3.
McKenzie, a cable systems installer and maintainer – or "cable dog," – with A Company, 101st Signal Battalion, New York Army National Guard, saw a flash of red going over a guard rail on the Saw Mill River Parkway and immediately pulled her car to the side of the road.
"I saw what looked like the outline of a boy going over the side," McKenzie said. "I knew something was wrong."
Her instincts had been sharpened by nearly six years of combined Army training, which erased all doubt and hesitation at the scene.
"Thanks to my Army training, it was all automatic; everything was fluid," McKenzie said.
She ran over to the edge where she saw Police Officer Jessie Ferreira Cavallo, of the Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, police department already assessing the scene.
When McKenzie saw the 12-year-old boy lying on the rocks below she shouted to Cavallo, "let's go!" They both ran to the shallow end of the overpass, climbed over a fence, and dropped 10 feet to the jagged ground below.
The boy, a resident of the Bronx, had left the Andrus Campus in the Bronx. Andrus is a private, nonprofit organization that provides services for vulnerable children, children with special needs, and children with severe emotional and behavior issues, according to news reports.
Andrus staff members were speaking with the boy when he jumped from the overpass he had been standing on.
McKenzie, who spent three years on active duty with the 168th Multifunctional Medical Battalion and just completed Combat Life Savers (CLS) training with the Guard, immediately began to assess the injuries the boy sustained in the fall.
She improvised a flashlight from her phone to administer a concussion test, took his vital signs and kept talking to him so he stayed awake and alert.
Next, she shouted to a bystander above to grab the CLS bag from her trunk and throw it down.
Working with Cavallo, they used splints from her bag to secure his neck, arm and leg, and stayed with him until the medics arrived and took him to Westchester Hospital.
The Westchester County Police records department confirmed the assistance from McKenzie and the pivotal role that both the National Guard and local police played in working together to assist the boy.
McKenzie doesn't think she's a hero and would never ask for recognition. For her, it's all about loyalty to her unit and her community.
"I wear the uniform every day because I want to help Soldiers – I want to help people," McKenzie said. "This is my family."