CSM responds to medical emergency

Transatlantic Division
Published Sept. 12, 2017
CSM Etter during change of responsibility ceremony July 14.

The new Transatlantic Division Commander Brig. Gen. David Hill passes the Division colors to Cmd. Sgt. Major John Etter during a Change of Command and Change of Responsibility Ceremony July 14 at the division's headquarters in Winchester, Va.

Pay attention in class, you never know when you’re going to need it.  It’s a lesson Command Sergeant Major John Etter taught to his students during his tours as a drill sergeant and an instructor at the Army’s elite Combat Engineer School.  It’s also a lesson he recently applied first hand during an in-flight emergency while on a flight to Hawaii.

Etter, the CSM of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Division, headquartered in Winchester, Va., was on a New York to Hawaii flight on his way to visit his wife when a passenger sitting behind him passed out and appeared to have trouble breathing.

“A call came over the intercom that they were looking for a doctor,” said Etter. “I didn’t realize it was for the person sitting behind me. The flight attendant needed to move him to the galley area so they grabbed his upper body and I grabbed his legs to help move him.”

When they had moved the patient to the galley, Etter noticed he’d become very pale and asked for a medical kit. By that point, a doctor, a nurse and a police officer had joined in the effort to assist the passenger and the plane had radioed a doctor on the ground.  In consultation with the doctors they decided to start an IV.

“I prepared the IV bag and the nurse put the IV into the patient’s arm,” Etter continued. “We then discussed with the doctors what medications were on board that we should administer and what the dosages were. At this point it seemed like he wasn’t breathing so he was given an atropine injection and I began artificial breathing for him using an Ambu bag and then mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while the police officer raised and lowered his feet and the nurse monitored his vitals.”

Once the plane made an emergency landing, Etter assisted in getting the patient to a waiting ambulance and held him steady while paramedics intubated him.  He credits his Army Combat Lifesaver course with helping him know what to do and his prior experience as a drill instructor for keeping his presence of mind during the crisis.

“As a drill instructor, you’re a doctor, a lawyer, mother and father all rolled into one and the Combat Lifesaver Course is something every soldier receives as well as refreshers. Something like this just shows you never know when you will use those skills,” he said. “I’ve used them on the battlefield but never thought I’d need them on an airplane while on leave.”

Etter said that they provided medical care to the patient for almost an hour although it went by in a flash. Unfortunately, he doesn’t yet know the outcome for the patient.

Colonel Scott Lowdermilk, the TAD Chief of Staff, said Etter was pretty casual about the whole situation when he was relaying the story. 

 “When the CSM came back from leave, he actually seemed more excited that he’d gotten a new surf board and told us this story almost as an afterthought,” Lowdermilk said. “It speaks to the kind of humble leader that he is. I insisted he tell his story because just like him, it serves as an example to our soldiers that when you’re receiving this type of training, it’s important to pay attention and learn the skills you’re taught. It could very well save a life. He did not act like he had done anything out of the ordinary.  I told him that I am sure the passenger’s mom and sister, who were also on the plane, placed him in the hero category."


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Division serves as USACE’s tip of the spear in one of the most dynamic construction environments in the world, STRENGTHENING PARTNERSHIPS, BUILDING CAPACITY, and ENHANCING SECURITY for our nation, allies, and partners. 

We deliver agile, responsive, and innovative, design, construction, engineering and contingency solutions in support of U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command and other global partners to advance national security interests.

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