SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Three South Dakota Army National Guard Soldiers received the Outstanding Citizen Award by the Sioux Falls Police Department at the Law Enforcement Center in Sioux Falls, April 26.
Sgt. 1st Class Neal Stratman, 2nd Battalion, 196th Regional Training Institute, Sgt. 1st Class Matt Tjaden, 1742nd Transportation Company, and Capt. Carl Stearns, 152nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, received the award from Police Chief Matt Burns, Sioux Falls Police Department, for their honorable actions on March 7.
The three Soldiers were traveling home after work when they witnessed a two-vehicle car collision on West 60th Street North, which resulted in one person being critically injured and left two others with minor injuries.
"We immediately stopped to provide assistance to the passengers of the two highly damaged vehicles," said Stearns. "The two vehicles had been traveling in opposite directions and collided at an estimated combined speed of 100 mph (50 mph speed zone)."
Stearns immediately called 911 while Stratman began to assess the collision and Tjaden conducted traffic control.
"I just saw a bunch of snow flying and the cars in the ditch," said Stratman. "We noticed there were three people from the two vehicles and the original seat for one passenger was now only half the size."
The drivers of both vehicles were male and had minor injuries, but the wife of one driver was trapped in the passenger seat and unconscious upon arrival.
"The husband appeared to have a concussion but refused to let us assist him," said Stearns. "He was an off duty police officer and wanted us to help his wife first."
Stearns went to his vehicle and retrieved his personal first aid bag and a blanket while Stratman grabbed a towel from his vehicle.
"Stratman turned his towel into a makeshift brace to stabilize her neck and we wrapped her in the blanket to keep her warm until the fire department and ambulance services arrived on scene," said Stearns. "She was suffering from what appeared to be an extreme internal head injury which caused her to have seizures for several minutes."
Tjaden was slowing down vehicles on the street and directing them away from the collision until the first responders arrived.
"60th Street is one of the busiest streets in Sioux Falls during rush hour traffic and there was black ice on the road that day," said Stratman. "If he wouldn't have done that, it could've been a lot worse – it was huge."
When the first responders arrived, Stratman continued to assist as much as possible.
"He turned his attention to comforting the husband and gave him his own jacket in order for him to stay warm," said Stearns. "He engaged him in conversation to keep him calm until his wife was ultimately extricated from the vehicle with the Jaws of Life."
The injured were transported to the Sanford Medical Center in Sioux Falls for medical treatment.
"The best part is knowing we helped those people," said Stratman. "It's been very humbling to receive this award and for my stepsons to see what kind of impact we can have in our community."
The Outstanding Citizen Award is given to those who demonstrate loyalty, dedication, attitude and integrity, as well as exemplary service, to their community.
"I was truly proud to see these two noncommissioned officers work as a team," said Stearns. "It was so amazing to see how other people just stood around at the scene and waited to take direction from the Guard Soldiers in uniform."