Marine Chief Warrant Officer 5 Angelo Alvarez, Navy Lt. Katelyn Morton, Marine Staff Sgt. Rochae Petgrave, Navy Hospitalman 3rd Class Brianna Gausden, and Hospitalman Jason Toro are recognized by the Philippine Marine Corps on Oct. 14, 2022, during the closing ceremony for KAMANDAG 6 at Fort Bonifacio, Philippines. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ujian Gosun. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.
Driving back to their Subic Bay hotel, a group of Marines and sailors spotted a teenager gushing blood along a Philippine roadway, his scooter and a Jeepney crashed nearby.
It was Oct. 7, just after sundown, and a Marine, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Angelo Alvarez, leaned back from the wheel of his van and told a staff sergeant, two sailors, and a Navy officer that, if they “want to get out and assist, I’m here to help support in whatever way I can.”
“Split decision. We decided to get out,” Lt. Katelyn Morton, 27, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
They stepped into a scene of carnage, but they didn't know how bad it would be. Before the night was over, however, they'd save two lives, actions that led to Philippine officials awarding them Honorary Ally of the Armed Forces of the Philippines medals.
A US Marine with Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, and a Republic of Korea Marine set security during a live-fire exercise on Oct. 12, 2022, for the annual KAMANDAG exercises at Colonel Ernesto Rabina Air Base, Philippines. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Yvonne Iwae.
When they came upon the accident, the Marines and sailors were wrapping up KAMANDAG, an annual exercise with Philippine forces.
The crash victims were civilians, but they were in good hands.
The Navy medical officer and her two corpsmen came from 3rd Medical Battalion at Camp Foster on the Japanese island of Okinawa.
While Marine Staff Sgt. Rochae Petgrave and Navy Hospitalman Jason Toro saw to the first casualty, a boy who kept mumbling for his lost friends, Morton and Hospitalman 3rd Class Brianna Gausden started looking for the other boys.
Marines and sailors train alongside members of the armed forces of the Philippines on Luzon Island. Photo courtesy of Lt. Katelyn Morton.
Past the nose of the Jeepney, they found a pair of boys “sandwiched right next to each other,” Morton said. One appeared to be dead, but the other clung to life.
Gausden, 23, started trying to revive the boy who seemed unresponsive. Morton rushed to the other teen.
She pinched his nail bed and rubbed his sternum, and he seemed to respond. Her hand swept his lower body for bleeding and found a red pool flowing under him.
His thighbone speared through the skin, and blood gushed through the hole.
US Marines with Battalion Landing Team 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, fire a Javelin shoulder-fired anti-tank missile during KAMANDAG, an annual military exercise, at Colonel Ernesto Rabina Air Base, Philippines, Oct. 13, 2022. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ujian Gosun.
Morton needed a tourniquet, so Alvarez — a nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare expert — tore off his belt and handed it to her.
She bound the injured boy’s leg but soon spotted another slash higher up his thigh. So she quit with a tourniquet and applied direct pressure to his femoral artery, cutting the flow of blood to the entire leg.
That’s when emergency medical services arrived. The first responders went to the mumbling teen, but Morton flagged them over to the more serious cases.
As they loaded each patient into the ambulance, Morton returned to aid her fellow service members toiling to save the lives of the others.
After the casualties departed, the Marines and sailors drove back to their hotel. The boy Gausden tried to save died. The teen with the broken femur lived, but he remained in critical condition. The local hospital treated and released the third victim.
US Marines with Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, join Philippine Marines during a live-fire event during KAMANDAG, an annual exercise, on Oct. 13, 2022, at Colonel Ernesto Rabina Air Base, Philippines. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ujian Gosun.
Despite the fact that the service members were credited with saving two lives, the shock of the accident continued to ripple through the souls of the Marines and sailors who treated the victims.
“I’m not used to point-of-injury trauma like that,” said Morton, an emergency room nurse. “I’ve never just come up on a carnage accident where there’s multiple casualties, multiple traumas, and had to assess very quickly who was the most severe. Because usually, when they come to the hospital in the ER, those interventions have already been implemented in place by the EMS.”
The Navy’s Cook County Health program exposed Gausden to plenty of medical trauma cases, but she’d never seen one outside of Chicago’s John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital.
Toro had just arrived at his first military command, and he’d never seen anything like that.
“Although it was new and in the moment, obviously it was a lot to take on. You just have to fall back on training,” Toro, 25, told Coffee or Die. “You can’t just not do anything, just basically stare, freeze up.”
US Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. James Kahl, a utilities operations chief with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, participates in a Boodle Fight during the KAMANDAG exercise at Subic Bay, Philippines, Oct. 12, 2022. A Boodle Fight is a Filipino tradition of eating with your bare hands while sharing the meal with family and friends over a banana leaf-lined table filled with food. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Weston Brown.
The Marines leaned on their Combat Life Saver Courses when providing first aid.
The sailors credited their Tactical Combat Casualty Care training for successfully triaging the two survivors, stopping their bleeding, maintaining their breathing and circulation, and stabilizing their fractures.
“Our job and our purpose is to be medical providers and to help, whether it is an American service member or a local national. It’s to help,” Morton said. “That is, for me, what I was thinking: If my one thing I get to do in the military is, essentially, save a few lives, then that made this whole experience worth it for me. And that’s what we’ve been trained to do.”
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Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.
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