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Air Force Recruiting Service | Airmen Treat, Carry Injured Hiker Across Alaskan Glacier on Day Off

  • Published
  • By Miriam Thurber
  • Air Force Recruiting Service

Nine total force Airmen triaged and carried an injured hiker across an Alaskan glacier while off-duty, Sept. 10, 2023, here.

Just an hour earlier, the Airmen had strapped on crampons alongside two civilian hikers and two mountain guides, eager to spend their day off exploring the glacier. The Air Force team, comprised of Air Force Recruiting Service members and Air Force aviators, had traveled to Alaska from various corners of the United States, visiting schools and community centers across the state to inspire the next generation of leaders. Even though it was the team’s day off, when one of the other hikers sustained a leg injury on top of the glacier, the Airmen sprang into action to help. The team’s quick, unified response put the hiker safely aboard a helicopter and eventually in front of doctors at an Alaskan hospital.

While the mountain guide called for the airlift, Master Sgt. Cole Caygill, 367th Recruiting Squadron flight chief from New Mexico, assessed the injury and treated shock symptoms while four other Airmen assembled an emergency stretcher. Three more Airmen chipped ice for a wrap, then gathered rocks to elevate the injured leg, while Senior Master Sgt. Katherine Woods, diversity and inclusion program manager for Det. 1, kept the hiker talking and calm.

“Active duty members learn battlefield trauma triage during Tactical Combat Casualty Care training, and every Airman, whether officer, enlisted, reserve, national guard or Department of Defense civilian, learn effective collaboration in high-stress scenarios from day one,” Woods said.  

The collective effort, which was given unanimously and without hesitation on the glacier, reminded Senior Master Sgt. Julius Lendof, diversity and inclusion superintendent for Det. 1, of previous assignments, he said. Lendof also said that “the seamless, care-focused teamwork evoked memories of past deployments and of the comradery between Airmen from all different backgrounds, working together for a common cause.” The incident reminded him of how his deployed teams jumped immediately into action, relying on each other and their core training.

“Serving others is what we do,” Caygill said. “It’s second nature to us because of our training and our experiences working as teams.”

As the wind picked up and the helicopter prepared to land, the mountain guide, an expert in navigating the treacherous terrain, selected the five Airmen most similar in height and gave careful instructions to gently lift the stretcher with him and carry the hiker to a flatter part of the ice where the helicopter pilot could safely touch down. The team of officers, enlisted and civilians carried the stretcher, gathered the hiker’s equipment, and ensured she was safely loaded into the airlift. The hiker later returned to her home state, safe and stable.

“To have a strong group of leaders who are willing to drop everything for a stranger—you just can’t teach that, not in a day,” said the guide, who preferred to remain anonymous. “When everyone works together and follows a chain of command, the results are better. The military does a great job of instilling that. You can’t learn that anywhere else in the world.” 

The next day, the teams finished their trip at Anchorage high schools, and one of the Airmen involved with rescuing the hiker found herself in front of a group of health science students. One student asked what made working with the Air Force different. She responded that being on an Air Force team requires loyalty, service before self and excellence in all you do. She then explained how, even on days off, Airmen are trained and prepared to solve problems, work together and protect the people around them.

To learn more about the training U.S Air Force Airmen receive, visit the Air Education and Training Command website, or contact a recruiter through