ANNAPOLIS, Md. — What began as a routine training jump from the back of a C-27J aircraft, quickly became a matter of life or death for one soldier. As he hung by the neck, unable to release himself from the harness, the response of his fellow Soldiers was crucial, and in this case, life-saving.
Members of the Maryland Army National Guard’s C Company, 1st Squadron, 158th Cavalry Regiment were performing a non-tactical jump over Bitner Drop Zone in Little Orleans, Md., this past December when strong winds and a late exit out of the aircraft led to a serious situation.
“Some of the jumpers landed in the trees at the far edge of the drop zone, which isn’t uncommon,” said Capt. Wade Cleland, C Company commander.
He explained that because of the multiple soldiers suspended from the trees, the company created a detail to help get the members and parachutes down from the branches. Included in that detail was Lt. Col. Bradley Martsching, 1-158th commander, who headed over to the edge of the drop zone to assist the unit. While most of the members were focused on the soldiers trapped high in the trees, a struggle for life was taking place just a few feet from the ground.
“Because the soldier was suspended so close to the ground, it appeared from a distance that he was standing up and was okay,” said Cleland. “[The detail] drove near the injured soldier and almost kept going, until they took a second look. [They] noticed he was limp and raced over and realized the soldier’s face was turning a purplish-black color and that he wasn’t breathing. They lifted him up to release the tension on his harness and got him to the ground and immediately radioed back to me.”
While Cleland worked on getting the unit’s medic out to the soldier and coordinated with civilian medical authorities, Martsching worked to resuscitate the soldier. Martsching’s quick actions got the member breathing again, but the danger wasn’t over yet.
“At this point, things seemed very touch and go,” said Cleland. “The Soldier had labored breathing… but still did not respond to verbal or physical cues.”
Martsching continued to reassure the soldier and assisted the medics until the Maryland state medical personnel arrived with a helicopter to transport the soldier to the hospital. While many people helped in saving the soldier’s life, Martsching’s initial reaction in retrieving him from the tree and performing life-saving measures contributed to the fact that the Soldier is now fully recovered and back to duty with the unit.
“For the first few seconds, it was simply a matter of doing what we were trained to do and working through the process and procedures,” said Martsching. “I participated in another jump earlier this month with that same soldier. It is awesome to see him fully participating in everything the unit does and a testament to his resiliency that he can get past a near-fatal event and still don a parachute. I’m glad I could play a part, and I admire his courage.”
While saving the soldier’s life certainly stands out as a career highlight, Martsching has had many other accomplishments throughout his 20 years of service.
Prior to his current role as the squadron commander, Martsching served many years at the National Guard Bureau level working in multiple sections to include the Army National Guard’s Readiness Reporting Branch, Current Operations Branch where he supported contingency operations in Libya, Strategy Branch, and he served as the aide-de-camp to the chief of the National Guard Bureau. However, his favorite assignments were back at the state level in command positions that allowed direct involvement and greater opportunity to influence the Soldiers.
“I've had the opportunity to influence soldiers in the squadron and supporting organizations, and I do my best to try and show them what right looks like, whether that is fitness, training, counseling, fairness or work/life balance,” said Martsching. “In this command, I’ve tried to focus on leadership development above everything else. I realized several years ago, that I’ve been very fortunate to have some great mentors that spent time with me, challenged me and brought me along. Not all my peers were as fortunate, so I feel an obligation to try and do the same for my soldiers.”
For his next assignment, Martsching was chosen to attend the Joint Advanced Warfighting School in Norfolk, Va., as part of continued military education, where he will learn joint planning processes and critical analysis that will prepare him to serve on a joint staff. The selection process to attend the course as a resident student was competitive, and Martsching will be one of the few National Guard officers in attendance. Because of that, he was honored to be selected.
“JAWS has the reputation of being the most rigorous of the senior service college options,” said Martsching. “I understand that my performance in the course will have an influence on the faculty and students’ perception of the National Guard, and I take that seriously.”
While Martsching’s success during JAWS is yet to be determined, his abilities as a leader have influenced the soldiers in his current command.
Maj. Edward Clements, 1-158th executive officer, explained that Martsching has a unique capability as a senior leader to provide a balance, focusing both on soldier care and giving attention to personnel issues, as well as maintaining his edge as a combat arms Soldier and emphasizing the tactical and technical proficiency of the unit.
“He definitely remembers his field craft and keeps in mind what it’s like to be a ‘muddy boots’ soldier,” said Clements.
Martsching demonstrated this quality of getting his feet dirty by being at the non-tactical jump training with members of the unit on that near-fatal day in December, and because of his level of involvement, the potential loss of a soldier’s life was prevented.