“Nothing can trump this feeling.”
For 1st Lt. Robert Youssef, 30th Operations Support Squadron assistant flight commander, the morning of May 26 was just another day at Vandenberg. Youssef was assisting during a dry run of a recent ground-based interceptor test launch. The pre-launch operations were running as planned when suddenly he heard some commotion coming from the doorway.
“I was helping a colleague of mine process some security paperwork when Mr. [Anthony] Palozzilo stormed in the room yelling if anybody knew how to perform CPR,” said Youssef. “I said ‘I do but I haven’t done it in a while’ and Mr. Palozzilo said ‘Please help us. Mr. [Don] Smith passed out and isn’t breathing.’”
Don Smith, Range Generation Next contractor, was unresponsive. Richard Wilson, RGNext resource control specialist, was tending to Smith when Youssef arrived. Youssef recognized immediately the dire situation in front of him.
“I ran to the room next door and saw Mr. Wilson, who was tending to Mr. Smith on the floor,” said Youssef. “Mr. Smith was unconscious, not breathing, and completely unresponsive. I briefly tried talking to him but he was completely out. At that point, I realized it was a life or death situation. All of my instincts kicked in.”
With little room or time for error, Youssef sprung to action. He and Wilson applied teamwork and communication in hopes of resuscitating Smith.
“Lt. Youssef began to do two-handed chest compressions on Mr. Smith,” said Wilson. “I moved near Mr. Smith’s head and tilted it back for better circulation. I noticed blood on Mr. Smith’s tongue which I believed happened because he had bitten it. The compressions seemed to have been working because Mr. Smith would open his eyes occasionally. They were dilated and black.”
Smith began to show signs of life, but was still unresponsive. Minutes seemed like hours, but Youssef was determined to ensure Smith would live to tell this tale.
“I had one thought which I remember clearly – ‘Not in my hands. I will not live with that,’” said Youssef. “He started breathing but was still unresponsive, so I kept going for a few more minutes until the Security Forces guys showed up. They took over for me and gave Mr. Wilson a tool to keep Mr. Smith’s tongue secure, so he wouldn’t swallow it. When I finally moved aside, my adrenaline rush subsided, and my arms gave up on me. I wasn’t able to hold anything. It was like doing pushups for several minutes straight. I didn’t feel any of that while I was doing the chest compressions. My mind was very focused on doing the right procedures.”
Youssef recalled how crucial one’s composure is when performing in a frenzied environment.
“Composure is very important,” said Youssef. “The presence of a frantic person will cause more damage than help. If you encounter a similar situation, you need to keep calm to allow your brain to make the right decisions.”
Members of the 30th Security Forces Squadron placed an oxygen mask on Mr. Smith’s face. A few minutes later, Smith began responding and moving his arms around. For Youssef, it was the culmination of his efforts and a very relieving, rewarding result.
“No matter how much I explain to you, I will not be able to describe this feeling,” said Youssef. “It took a minute to realize the gravity of the situation. When I drove home, I told myself, ‘Today is my day. My happiness is way up in the sky and nothing can trump this feeling.’”