Air Force Junior ROTC instructor delivers lifesaving CPR to cadet who collapsed during physical training

  • Published
  • By Keith H. Bland, Air Force Junior ROTC Public Affairs

The assertion that “courage is grace under pressure” is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway. Regardless of its origin, there’s no doubt that retired Technical Sgt. Mariano Morua possesses that elusive quality in spades, and because of it, one high school student in La Crescenta, California is still alive today.

Morua is the Air Force Junior ROTC Aerospace Science Instructor at Crescenta Valley High School outside Los Angeles, a position he started in January, just nine days after his official Air Force retirement. With 20 years of experience as an Air Force security forces member, civilian police officer, and Air Force Reservist, Morua's accumulated expertise and training made him the right person at the right time on Feb. 23 when a cadet at Crescenta Valley experienced a life-threatening medical emergency.

On that date, the Junior ROTC cadets had just started their physical training regimen at the school’s track complex. As Morua was observing from approximately 50 yards away, one of the first-year cadets collapsed and fell awkwardly on the track infield. As the cadets called Morua over, he immediately called 911 while simultaneously moving towards the fallen cadet.

Upon reaching her side and starting his assessment, the 911 operator came on the line. Morua reported the cadet had a “very faint” pulse and was unconscious. He continued talking to the operator while moving the cadet onto her side to ensure she wouldn’t swallow her tongue. The cadet showed no signs of breathing, and Morua wanted to ensure her airway remained open. The 911 operator directed Morua to begin chest compressions to try to keep blood flowing to the cadet’s brain. Morua delivered compressions for approximately four minutes before detecting the first responses from the cadet which consisted of some eye movement and an occasional gasping for air. He continued CPR for another few minutes until Emergency Medical Service responders and the local fire department arrived. EMS was able to stabilize the cadet and transport her to the hospital where she recovered.

When asked about his calm management of the scene, Morua credited his background in the Air Force and civilian law enforcement. He explained, “It’s that ability to focus and do what we have to immediately when faced with a stressful situation. It doesn’t come naturally, but when you’re in positions in careers where you’re having to deal with stressful situations like that, you just respond appropriately. Training just kicked in.”

As a law enforcement professional in both his Air Force and civilian life, Morua credits the regular CPR training he received with making the difference in administering the lifesaving intervention properly. “It’s so precise, and I’m glad for all the training because I don’t know if I would have responded like that [without it]. Certainly, just 30 seconds matters when it comes to somebody not having the right circulation going to their brain.”

Following the incident, school counselors and psychologists met with the students and instructors to make sure everyone was "doing okay" managing the emotions associated with witnessing a traumatic event. The ailing cadet made a speedy recovery and was back in class within days, even attending the school's spring dance.

During the interview, Morua sought to take the attention off himself, disdaining the word “hero”, saying, “I'm just paying everything I have gained from my mentors forward to our youth.”

When asked what he hoped would come from the incident, he asserted he hoped other Junior ROTC instructors and teachers would take their CPR training seriously. Asked about his eventful first few months in the job, Morua said the instructor role was “amazing, because you still get to teach, but more importantly, mentor. You also have that camaraderie with the Air Force, and it’s really something to see these young individuals take pride in the country and the uniform.”