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Brian T. Earle, a former corpsman with Headquarters and Service Company, 1st battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, stationed out of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., saved the lives of three strangers in a vehicle rollover on a Southern California Interstate July 15, 2008, with the help of a Marine Corps scout sniper in his unit, Lance Cpl. Alexander Huff.

Photo by Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

Corpsman and Marine save lives on the way home

29 Aug 2008 | Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

Marines and corpsman have fought battles, trained, played and saved lives together since the establishment of the Navy Hospital Corps in 1898. This rapport was proven yet again on the morning of July 15.

As Seaman Apprentice Brian T. Earle sat half-asleep in the passenger’s side of a car traveling down a Southern California interstate, the last thing on his mind was the possibility of needing to apply training to save the lives of a few strangers.

But when Earle opened his eyes, he witnessed a vehicle rollover that may have tested the courage of any other driver on the road that day. 

Earle, who was then a corpsman with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, was traveling back here from San Diego with Lance Cpl. Alexander Huff, a scout sniper he recently deployed to Iraq with.

Earle said he and Huff witnessed a pick up truck with a trailer over correct a maneuver, sending the truck full-speed through a guard rail.

“The trailer and truck kind of jack-knifed,” explained Earle, a Houston native. “Then as the truck went through the guard rail, the trailer broke off and the truck went flipping down the hill.”

Recognizing the severity of the accident, Earle instructed Huff to pull to the side of the road. Both men ran from their vehicle and were the first on the scene.

There were three passengers; two women and one man. The man, who was sitting in the front passenger’s seat, was unconscious along with the driver. The woman in the back seat was conscious and asking for help.

“It’s weird how when you are trained, you’re told to make an assessment of the situation as it happens,” said Earle. “I found myself doing that as I ran over there.”

When Earle and Huff reached the truck laying on its right side, they found gasoline spilled on the ground and smoke emitting from the undercarriage of the truck. Earle’s first thought was to turn off the vehicle since he knew some newer model vehicles use a cyclic air conditioner that sparks when it starts, he said.

“With all that gasoline around, all it would have taken was a spark and you could’ve had a fire,” he said. “That would’ve made it a lot harder for me to get the people out.”

Earle kicked in the back window to help the woman in the backseat out.
He recalled there were many possessions in the compartment which made it impossible for him to reach the front of the truck from the back seat and assist the other passengers.

As he helped her out of her seat belt, Earle said he kept the woman calm by talking to her and asking questions about possible medical conditions of the fellow passengers.

He then instructed a nearby civilian to talk to her and keep her awake in case she had suffered a concussion. Earle approached the front of the truck and discovered the driver was still unconscious and had lost one of her arms.

 “The man was surprisingly calm,” said Earle. “He was covered in blood, but most of it was from his wife.”
Another man arrived and used a knife to chip and pry the shatter-proof windshield from the car.

 “I got pretty cut up on my hands because we were just grabbing glass and nothing else,” said Earle. “But getting those people out of the car took precedence over everything since it was smoking.”

 After removing the windshield, Earle used a belt to slow the now conscious woman’s bleeding. Huff, Earle and the unidentified Samaritan helped the man slide out of the truck. They then climbed into the truck and supported the woman as Earle cut away her jammed seatbelt.

 Once out of the truck, Earle used a splint of wood from the guard rail and some long underwear to make a tourniquet on the woman’s missing arm.

 Fire trucks soon arrived to find the two men covered in blood and gasoline standing with the accident victims.

 “The CHP [California Highway Patrol] told me I was an idiot,” said Earle. “But I think after I told them I was in the military, they kind of got it.”

 Earle added the police wanted Earle and Huff to remain at the scene and talk to the fire department, but Earle insisted on returning to base since he was late for duty.

 “He absolutely deserves special recognition for his actions,” said 1st Lt. Benjamin A. Cunningham, Headquarters and Support Company commander, about Earle.

 Chief Petty Officer Dexter V. Parrish, 1/7 senior medical department representative, agreed.

 “It’s not an easy thing to go into harm’s way to help someone,” said Parrish, a Nashville, Tenn., native. “The pressure was high, and a lot of other people would have buckled under that pressure. He’s a very unassuming kind of guy, and those are the kind of people you expect great things from and get the greatest results from.”

Since Huff is recently at the Marine Corps Basic Scout Sniper School at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Dohl, Huff’s scout sniper platoon sergeant for 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, spoke on his behalf.

 “Lance Cpl. Huff is a very reliable Marine, and it shows in his actions,” said Dohl, a Wellington, Nev., native. “He showed that camaraderie that exists between a Marine and a corpsman. A corpsman told him to do something, he listened and they worked as a team.”

Earle agreed, saying he believed it was the very nature of the corpsman-Marine relationship that helped saved the lives of three strangers.

 “I felt I had an obligation to help because of my medical training,” said Earle. “Huff took me seriously, and I felt he had complete confidence in knowing that I could do my job. He didn’t ask any questions.”

Earle, who left active duty service in July, has been submitted to receive the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, said Cunningham. 

Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms