During one of our political conventions earlier this year in my hometown of Austin, Texas, I met a terrific lady who told me an amazing story.
It is a story of dedication, courage, and heroism. It is the story of a veteran, retired U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Juanyta Ortiz, whom I am proud to honor on this Veterans Day, her day.
I had hoped to have Juanyta’s compelling story ready to share with you today. But, alas, that wasn’t the case. I will continue to work on it and you will hopefully learn all about Juanyta’s ordeal and heroism in the near future.
For now, let me just tell you that almost exactly nine years ago, Tech. Sgt. Juanyta Ortiz, an Air Force medic at the time, boarded a C-130 aircraft, along with 85 other military personnel and a crew of eight, at Kuwait City International Airport.
The short, 15-minute night flight was to take Juanyta to Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, where she was to spend the next three months in support of “Operation Southern Watch,” a military operation that was part of the United Nations effort to enforce sanctions on Iraq.
Juanyta took her seat near the middle of the aircraft, almost back-to-back to Senior Airman Sean Kirkeby, a firefighter from Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. Juanyta did not know Kirkeby, but before the night was over both would share the most horrifying experience of their lives, and both would share the ultimate duty and trust, that of trying to save human lives.
For her actions in what happened next, the U.S. Air Force awarded Juanyta the prestigious Airman’s Medal.
The citation accompanying the award tells you a little bit of the story I have been working on:
Technical sergeant Juanyta D. Ortiz distinguished herself by heroism involving voluntary risk of life near Ahmed Al Jabar Air Base, Kuwait, on 10 December 1999. On that date, Sergeant Ortiz rapidly responded to aid her fellow passengers who were seriously injured when the C-130 aircraft they were passengers on suffered severe structural damage upon ground impact. After the aircraft had become airborne again, she realized the ground impact had torn holes in the aircraft’s fuselage wheel well area and drove parts of the landing gear into the passenger compartment, injuring dozens of passengers, several fatally. With complete disregard for her own safety and despite a large hole in the fuselage near where she was working, Sergeant Ortiz unhesitatingly directed her attention to those around her, exercising her abilities as a trained Aeromedical Craftsman. While the aircrew assessed aircraft damage, she quickly unbuckled herself and made her way through the crowded plane, and attended a passenger with a critical head injury. Following a rapid assessment, Sergeant Ortiz utilized her medical knowledge and limited resources in an attempt to aid this individual. While other passengers moved him, Sergeant Ortiz moved about the damaged cargo hold to assess and treat other passengers. Only when the plane attempted to land, did she resume a safe position. After exiting the plane, despite personal trauma, she continued to assess other passengers and provide comfort as circumstances allowed. By her courageous actions and humanitarian regard for her fellowman, Sergeant Ortiz has reflected great credit upon herself and the United States Air Force.
Eloquent, commendable, and deserving as the citation is, it does not begin to describe the horrific events in the skies over Kuwait nine years ago, nor the courage of a veteran I am proud to have met, and honored to be able to tell her story—shortly.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.