Airmen save life of injured passenger who stopped breathing after fall

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Cameron Silver
  • 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing

Staff Sgt. Stephen Hornik, a passenger services supervisor assigned to the 721st Aerial Port Squadron, is no stranger to life-or-death situations. When a passenger suddenly collapsed in the Ramstein Air Base terminal on the night of Oct. 4, 2023, he didn’t hesitate to spring into action.

“As soon as I heard of the situation, I rushed to see what was going on,” said Hornik, who has been at the 7-2-1 since early 2022.

Hornik was working the night shift when he received a call from the 721 APS’s NCOIC of passenger services, Tech. Sgt. Matthew Waldeck. A retiree looking to travel with his wife had abruptly fallen near the terminal entryway and hit his head on the floor, rendering him unconscious.

Staff Sgt. Jeremiay Burns, also a passenger services supervisor with the 721st APS and one of the first on the scene, quickly called emergency services and then started to ready the man for an automated external defibrillator with the assistance a few other Airmen. Upon Hornik’s arrival, the retiree had received the initial shock from the AED but was still unresponsive and had begun to turn purple. Hornik immediately checked for a pulse and signs of breathing, finding none.

“I began to conduct CPR procedures just as we are taught in tactical combat casualty care,” said Hornik. “After the first set of compressions, [the man] began echo breathing and then stopped breathing all together. I then resumed CPR and continued to ensure the individuals neck was properly placed, chin was tilted up slightly, and made sure his airways were clear to ensure I was providing him with the best care possible.”

Hornik continued giving rescue breaths and chest compressions until emergency medical services arrived and took over. Eventually, the man’s heart restarted, he began to breathe again, and was transferred to a local hospital for further care.

Hornik’s supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Mark Dumlao, a passenger services shift lead assigned to the 721st APS, noted that Hornik knew exactly which actions to take to save a life and was crucial to the outcome of the situation.

“Staff Sgt. Hornik's training and calm demeanor under pressure were commendable,” said Dumlao. “This event serves as a great example of well-trained and coordinated military individuals when it comes to life-threatening situations, ultimately saving a life.”

CPR is a skill taught to every Airmen during TCCC, the U.S. military’s baseline first aid training that sets guidelines for trauma life support. However, Hornik took the extra time to get fully certified and his comfort amidst the chaos was noted by those involved.

“During the event I just continued to think what I needed to do to save him and stayed focused,” said Hornik. “After it was over, I just felt relief that he was okay because that’s all that really mattered to me.”

Part of Hornik’s calmness could be attributed to the fact that it wasn’t his first time saving a life. Around the same time last year, while he was on leave, he assisted a motorcyclist who was involved in a major collision in front of him. Hornik got out his car, moved the injured man out of the roadway and slowed the bleeding from his head wound. After the ambulance arrived, Hornik continued to help by directing traffic around the accident.

“Growing up I was raised to take action when it is needed and to help whenever and whoever I can,” added Hornik. “It’s just something I don’t think about, and my body moves on its own.”

Despite his own impact, Hornik emphasized that he it was not alone that night and recognized other Airmen that night who he thought played a key role.

“I would like to thank Tech. Sgt. Waldeck for coming to get me when he did and Staff Sgt. Burns for calling EMS when he did. [The medics] handle this type of event all the time and I am truly thankful for them doing what they do best.”

Hornik also expressed his gratitude for the backing of his teammates.

“After everything is all said and done, the amount of support that I have received from my Airmen on shift and my leadership has truly been a blessing. They are an awesome bunch of individuals that I know I can lean on whenever I need them.”

The 721st APS is a part of the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing headquartered at Ramstein AB and has a mission to execute world-class aerial port services in support of five combatant commands. That night, led by Hornik, they proved that level of service was not just a catchy tagline.