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30 SFS Defender puts emergency medical training to the test helping hikers

Senior Airman Christian Emery, 30th Security Forces Defender, takes a brief rest during a hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney, Oct. 3, 2015. Emery unexpectedly found himself spending the night on Mt. Whitney as he provided emergency aid to hikers in distress. (Courtesy Photo)

Senior Airman Christian Emery, 30th Security Forces Defender, takes a brief rest during a hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney, Oct. 3, 2015. Emery unexpectedly found himself spending the night on Mt. Whitney as he provided emergency aid to hikers in distress. (Courtesy Photo)

Senior Airman Christian Emery, 30th Security Forces Defender, and his hiking group during their trip to the summit of Mt. Whitney, Oct. 3, 2015. Emery unexpectedly found himself spending the night on Mt. Whitney as he provided emergency aid to hikers in distress. (Courtesy Photo)

Senior Airman Christian Emery, 30th Security Forces Defender, and his hiking group during their trip to the summit of Mt. Whitney, Oct. 3, 2015. Emery unexpectedly found himself spending the night on Mt. Whitney as he provided emergency aid to hikers in distress. (Courtesy Photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Mt. Whitney is a popular hiking destination in California with an elevation of approximately 14,500 feet. Although accessible without extensive training or technical support, hiking trips to the summit still require the proper level of planning and preparation for a safe, successful trip.

For Senior Airman Christian Emery, a 30th Security Forces Squadron Defender since June 2011, that need for careful preparation was made evident during a recent hiking trip as he found himself unexpectedly spending the night on Mt. Whitney providing emergency aid to a couple of distressed hikers.

It all started on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, as Emery set out in a group with five others around 3 p.m. to make the 14-mile round trip hike to the summit of Mt. Whitney. After successfully reaching the top, they began their trek back down the mountain trail when around 7:30 p.m. they came across hikers in distress near the 12,000-foot elevation point. A female hiker had passed out due to altitude sickness and dehydration and the man with her was also suffering from dehydration. They were both in a hypothermic state and unable to continue their descent in the increasingly cold environment, where temperatures had dropped near freezing and 20-25 mph winds cut through the air as dusk approached.

Upon assessing the scene, Emery's training and instincts pushed him into action. During his four years with the 30th SFS, Emery has taken every opportunity available to increase his knowledge and experience with emergency medical care, volunteering for Combat Lifesaver training while deployed in 2013, and becoming a nationally certified Emergency Medical Technician in 2014. Armed with this knowledge of first aid care from the Air Force, he determined they were likely struggling with hypothermia, and decided he would continue to monitor them and keep them warm until rescuers arrived.

"Senior Airman Emery immediately took over the situation, took all vital signs and administered first aid with the supplies he was carrying," said retired Lt. Col. Garrett Thompson, a member of Emery's hiking group that day. "He was able to make use of two emergency blankets and an abandoned tent to shelter the individuals. Emery stayed with the two individuals throughout the night comforting and coaching them in and out of shock until rescue could arrive. Emery's actions were heroic and selfless and demonstrated to our citizens what great military servicemen we have in this country."

That night, Emery spent more than seven hours by himself tending to the two hypothermic hikers until the first search and rescue team arrived on scene around 4 a.m. By the time the rescue was complete, he had spent an additional 13 hours overnight on Mt. Whitney. For Emery, who aspires to go to paramedic school and the fire academy to become a firefighter paramedic in the future, it was only natural to jump in and help someone in distress. While he played a key role in the overall rescue efforts, Emery stressed that he couldn't have done it without the assistance of other good samaritans on the trail that day.

"I was in the right place at the right time," said Emery. "But I couldn't have done it without the help of others as well. I was asking for help from other hikers who were returning from the summit late and they gave us food, water and extra blankets. They were giving us anything they could spare."

Those extra supplies helped them endure the harsh conditions until the first rescue team arrived and by 10:00 a.m. the next morning, the couple's condition eventually improved to the point they were able to walk again and continue their descent to safety under the care of the search and rescue team. At this point Emery was released from his support role and was able to meet back up with his fellow group members. It was an unexpected turn of events on what was supposed to be a recreational hike, but through his diligence, training and demonstration of "Service Before Self", Emery helped ensure the two hikers in his care were able to return alive and safe.

"I felt I belonged there and I was glad I was there," said Emery. "That's what really drives me, because I want to do things in the Air Force, and outside of it, to help people in times of need. The only thing that really matters to me is that they got to go home and be with their family."