Chaplain’s training, faith save an Arizona man’s life
By Capt. Dan Dodson, 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 21, 2009
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Military chaplains are often credited with saving lives, and most of the time it's a spiritual life that is saved. For one Air Guard chaplain, a recent hunting trip turned into a different kind of rescue operation.
When a 162nd Fighter Wing chaplain, Maj. Mike Martinez, went hunting in early November, he didn't take a deer's life, but instead was involved in helping save a human life. Chaplain Martinez, a Catholic priest, had his self aid and buddy care training and divine intervention, on his side.
Chaplain Martinez was mule deer hunting in the Gallero Mountains, just north of Wilcox, Ariz., and west of Safford, with his brother David Martinez and his father Ralph Martinez. They had an uneventful few days when - as American poet Robert Frost would have said - the chaplain took a road less traveled and made all the difference.
In the early morning of Nov. 2, Ralph Martinez found a man in distress.
"We were just about ready to go up this road and at the last second my dad decided that we should go down a different road," said Chaplain Martinez.
Ralph's decision more than likely saved Henry Alvarado's life. It was a Monday so the majority of weekend hunters were already gone. Ralph spotted the fellow hunter under a juniper tree not doing well.
"This guy was kind of passed out and somewhat incoherent. My dad started talking to him and learned that his son, Leonard, was in the area hunting as well," said Martinez.
"I recall thinking there is something wrong with me, and I need to get back to camp. I just kept falling to my knees, blacking out," said Alvarado.
At this point Chaplain Martinez was approximately 400 yards away from his father Ralph, communicating via radio. Chaplain Martinez was instructed to find Leonard, which he quickly did.
Once all the men were together they realized they knew each other. "My brother David played sports with Leonard, and my dad and Henry knew each other from Safford," said Chaplain Martinez.
Working together to help Henry, they tried to load him on an all terrain vehicle to return to camp. Leonard could then drive his dad to the local hospital. The situation quickly got worse.
"We had just started moving on the quads when Henry began feeling nauseous, we had to stop and the next thing I knew he was throwing up blood and some type of matter. He also had blood running out of his nose, and his eyes were rolling to the back of his head," said Chaplain Martinez.
"It felt like my insides were coming out," said Henry.
Chaplain Martinez's training took over as he provided life saving care. "I remember thinking back to all my self aid and buddy care training, just remembering lets make sure he has a good airway, get his breathing going," said the chaplain while doing what also comes natural to him - praying.
"The lord was definitely with me that day," said Henry.
At the same time his brother David was in contact with the Graham County Sheriff's Department ordering a medical evacuation helicopter. He had to climb to the top of a ridge to receive cell phone service, relaying via radio, what was happening down below.
Less than 20 minutes later a helicopter landed on a ridge 50 yards away, to transport Henry Alvarado to Tucson Medical Center for life-saving care.
"Another 20 minutes and I would have bled out and died," said Henry.
It was later determined that Henry had lesions on his liver that ruptured causing internal bleeding.
"I owe my life to those guys. I am very fortunate," said Henry.
According Chaplain Martinez, taking the road less traveled just meant that he was exactly where he needed to be.