How a paratrooper’s combat medic training saved lives during shooting

By Rachael Riley, The Fayetteville Observer

In June 2021, then-2nd Lt. Joseph Guerra went out with friends to celebrate recently commissioning as Army officers.

Guerra enlisted in the Army in June 2010 as a combat medic.

Shortly after completing the Army’s Green to Gold Program to earn his bachelor’s degree and become an officer, Guerra would use his medic skills not on the battlefield but in a civilian active shooter situation on June 11, 2021, in Columbus, Georgia.

Guerra had just finished dinner with his fellow soldiers and was preparing to go to another establishment when a gunman opened fire.

“This man about 10 feet behind us just started firing upon us and everything and, you know, I pushed one of my friends down, jumped on top of her, and then the man had emptied out in all the rounds and everything that he had,” Guerra said before a ceremony Friday at Fort Liberty that recognized him for his actions two years ago.

Guerra is currently a second lieutenant serving as a scout platoon leader with the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

The night of the shooting, Guerra said, he didn’t have time to process and think about what was going on.

“It was more just like training kicked in,” he said.

Guerra said that after the gunman fled the scene, he started checking on those around the scene and noticed one of his friends was shot.

“I started treating him, and then we started to try to leave the establishment and that’s when I got a phone call from another friend, ‘cause we were all scattered after the shooting happened,” Guerra said. “Another friend told me that one of my other buddies was shot.”

Guerra went back to his truck to grab his aid bag with equipment he used as a medic to treat his friends and another woman they didn’t know who was found behind another restaurant with gunshot wounds.

The soldier he originally shielded was an Army nurse who also helped as he treated the wounded, Guerra said.

Guerra said among the gunshot wounds he treated that night were one to a right calf and another to the lower right abdomen.

One of his friends “could have possibly bled out and died,” he said.

Soldier’s Medal

Guerra’s actions saved the life of the soldier he shielded and the lives of three other victims, said Maj. Gen. Christopher LaNeve, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who presented Guerra with the Soldier’s Medal during a ceremony Friday.

The Soldier’s Medal is the highest level of award that a soldier can be awarded during peacetime for heroism and risking their life outside of combat.

“Our paratroopers stand ready to run to the sound of gunfire, jump behind enemy lines and bring light to darkness because this is who we are at our core,” LaNeve said. “Whether in garrison or a situation like Lt. Guerra or in the fields of Normandy, paratroopers will always answer the call.”

One of the June 2021 shooting victims, another lieutenant who did not want to be publicly identified Friday, read the citation of Guerra’s award.

“His selfless bravery in shielding a fellow officer from major gunfire without regard for his own life or safety epitomizes what it means to be an American soldier,” the lieutenant read. “2nd Lt. Guerra’s quick thinking and decisive action to render first aid following the horrific attack saved the lives of three victims.”

Guerra said other soldiers in the same situation would have done the same thing and that he intends to keep doing his job as a paratrooper for another seven years before retiring.

LaNeve said Guerra’s actions “embody” the spirit of paratroopers who have served in the 82nd Airborne Division since its inception.

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