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Niagara Airman meets man he saved with CPR; receives medals

  • Published
  • By Major Elaine Nowak
  • 107th Airlift Wing
Tech. Sgt. Jason N. Oehlbeck, a member of the 107th Airlift Wing, was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal and the New York State Medal for Meritorious Service at a ceremony here Sunday.

The New York Air National Guardsman rendered life-saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to a 35-year-old man at a hotel in East Syracuse on October 27. The state and federal awards are given to recognize Airmen for meritorious or heroic acts. He was reunited with the man he saved at the ceremony.

What started as an ordinary day of military training for Oehlbeck, turned into an opportunity to save the life of a citizen who was having a medical emergency.

Oehlbeck was attending a military training course at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse and returned to his hotel to study during a break. He was alerted by a member of a conference group that a colleague had collapsed. When Oehlbeck arrived, the man was unconscious and had gone into cardiac arrest. Oehlbeck checked the man's airways, noted he was not breathing and had no pulse. He began to administer CPR while someone called 911. He continued his efforts for 18 minutes, during which the man regained and lost his pulse several times. When police and paramedics arrived, they took over care and were able to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) to restart the man's heart.

"I saw the guy and he was my age.  I thought 'This could be me.' I was going to do whatever I could," Oehlbeck said.

Afterward, members of the conference group and hotel staff thanked Oehlbeck. A few told him they planned to get trained in CPR.

Oehlbeck continued with his day and returned to training, not knowing the man's fate. Much to his relief, one of the responding police officers called him the following day and let him know the man had survived.

John Belcher, General Manager at Embassy Suites Hotel, witnessed Oehlbeck jump into action.

"If it wasn't for Jason's continued effort and determination, this young man would not have survived until paramedics arrived," Belcher said in an email.

"Actions like this are not common in every man," he said. "As a prior military man myself, I know we are trained for such things, but still, not everyone has it in them to react when called upon. To see Jason react as quick as he did in a room full of people who did not is very special."

Oehlbeck had received CPR and AED training through the Air National Guard as a required part of his job as an aircraft electrician. He received an American Red Cross certification every two years. He is also part of a medical alert team with his civilian employer, Harris Corporation of Rochester, where he also gets CPR/AED training.

"My military training, my employer's medical training, and the fact that God put me in the right place at the right time - all came together so that I could help," said Oehlbeck.

The man whose life was saved, Jack Ewald, attended the ceremony as a surprise to his rescuer. He had never met Oehlbeck. As the men hugged for the first time, their friends, family, and the men and women of the 107th Airlift Wing clapped and cheered. 

"It was just fantastic to see him and fantastic to see him get the recognition he deserved," said Ewald. "He did amazing work in the spur of the moment and he was ready and had the character to keep it up."

The medals were presented by Col. Robert Kilgore, 107th Airlift Wing Commander.
"Tech. Sgt. Oehlbeck's actions were certainly heroic but it does not come as a surprise. Jason is an outstanding member of this unit and fine example of a National Guardsman, lending a hand to a fellow citizen in a time of crisis," Kilgore said.

Marie Betti, representing the group that was having the conference at the hotel that day, the New York Credit Union Association, was also at the ceremony. She presented a plaque to Oehlbeck thanking him for helping their colleague.  She also announced $1,000 was donated to the Friends of Family Support Association, a group that aids families from the airbase, in honor of Oehlbeck.

Oehlbeck is a traditional Air National Guard Airman who lives in Webster, N.Y. He has served in the 107th Airlift Wing since 2007 as an aircraft electrician. He deployed to Southwest Asia in 2013 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.