Army training helps Fort Carson soldier save life of wounded teen

August 19, 2013 Updated: August 19, 2013 at 1:35 pm
photo - Cpl. Erich Kelsh helped save the life of a teen who was shot in the leg in a park off post a few weeks ago.
Carol Lawrence,The Gazette
Cpl. Erich Kelsh helped save the life of a teen who was shot in the leg in a park off post a few weeks ago. Carol Lawrence,The Gazette  

Spc. Erich Kelsch has never been to combat.

But he feels like he has.

The 24-year-old Army intelligence analyst was presented with Fort Carson's Mountain Mover Award on Aug. 8 by post garrison commander Col. David Grosso for administering first aid to a gunshot victim and possibly saving his life.

But that victim wasn't a fellow soldier, and he wasn't injured in the training field.

He was a 17-year-old boy who was hanging out in the city's southeast side July 28 when he was shot in the leg by an unknown assailant.

That afternoon, Kelsch was at the house of a friend, fellow soldier Matt Hardy.

Kelsch was about to leave when the duo heard a slew of gunshots. When they looked out the window, they saw a teen running for cover between two cars before continuing down the road, limping and holding his leg all the way.

As he moved, he left a telltale trail of red.

"It looked like somebody had just taken a can of red paint and dumped it all over the street," Kelsch said. "At that point, my buddy and I looked at each other, and it was like, 'This guy is dying.'?"

As Kelsch and Hardy sprung into action, their military training kicked in. The two made the assumption that the area was clear and that the assailant had fled.

They hoped they were right.

The soldiers followed the blood trail to a house down the street, where the teen was trying to prop himself up and take off his pants.

Kelsch and Hardy performed a "blood sweep," a skill they'd learned during the Army's Combat Lifesaver Course. They noticed the blood on his pants and that his right shoe was soaked in blood, too.

After ensuring that the bullet wound to his right thigh was his only injury, Kelsch took the teen's belt off and used it as a tourniquet on the wound.

To keep him alert, he performed a painful sternum rub (a grinding motion on the victim's chest) - another technique he'd picked up during Army training.

"He kept saying, 'They shot me. Don't let me die,'" Kelsch recalled. "He kept saying he was thirsty, that he couldn't breathe."

Kelsch kept tabs on the teen's pulse, which was becoming harder to detect, as he waited for paramedics to arrived.

When they did, he helped paramedics apply a new tourniquet, answered questions from police and went on his way.

The teen has recovered, he later learned.

Though Kelsch spent a couple of months in an EMT training course before joining the military, he credits the Army for equipping him with a majority of the knowledge it took to save the boy.

"You go through Army training and you're like, 'I'm bored. We've done this a thousand times,'?" he said. "But it's because you've done the training over and over and over again that you develop muscle memory."

He credits his split-second decision to "go with his gut" and respond to the boy - despite the fact that the shooter was still at large - to his training and his desire to assist others.

"I'm always down to help somebody else," he said. "It was just instinct."

In a way, Kelsch considers the experience his first brush with urban combat. It just may help him better identify with his comrades who've deployed to a war zone.

"The adrenaline was just so high" that afternoon, he said. "I was shaking for multiple hours after, and I didn't sleep for two nights. Now I know why people have post-traumatic stress disorder from that kind of stuff."

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