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Connecticut Airman answers the call to duty

Staff Sgt. Dustin Wonoski, a member of the 103rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, stands in front of a building sign at Bradley Air National Guard Base, East Granby, Conn. Wonoski put service before self on April 15, 2013, when he found himself in the middle of the Boston Bombing. (Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Mead/Released)

Staff Sgt. Dustin Wonoski, a member of the 103rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, stands in front of a building sign at Bradley Air National Guard Base, East Granby, Conn. Wonoski put service before self on April 15, 2013, when he found himself in the middle of the Boston Bombing. (Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Mead/Released)

BRADLEY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE - East Granby, Conn. -- The ideals of the call of duty within all Airmen are manifested in the actions they choose. For Staff Sgt. Dustin Wonoski of the 103rd Logisitics Readiness Squadron, those ideals became actions on April 15, 2013. During the recent Boston bombing, Wonoski had charged back down Boylston Street after getting his mother and two children to safety.

"It was second nature, instinctual. I was a volunteer EMT [emergency medical technician] before joining the Air Force and we had to participate in a lot of mass casualties. It was just what I know," said Wonoski.

According to Wonoski, after the initial blast, there was a short lull in the reaction of the crowd. Even some of the police officers weren't fully aware of what was going on. A few people in the crowd started to panic and as they did, Wonoski turned to his mother and told her to back away.

That was when the second bomb went off.

Grabbing her by the arm, Wonoski ran up the street and put her and two other teenage girls inside a building out of the blast zone. After making sure they understood to stay down, Wonoski charged back into the fray to help.

"I told him I didn't want to stay in the building," said Anne Welsh, Wonoski's mother. However, according to her, Wonoski yelled at her to make sure she stayed right there at the door to the building. She stood and watched as her son ran back to the scene.

"If there was ever an opportunity to help, he would," said Welsh. And, in spite of the extreme fear she felt during the whole ordeal, Welsh "wasn't leaving until he came back."

Both Wonoski and Welsh were attending the marathon to support friends who were running the race to raise money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Welsh's friend had finished after two-and-a-half hours and Wonoski's friend was doing well. Wonoski had checked her status on a phone app that tracked the runners as they hit certain marks. 40 kilometers--that marker signified her entrance in Boston; this put her roughly 1.5 miles from the finish.

Approximately 10 minutes later, everything would change.

According to Wonoski, the police were trying to establish a perimeter, pulling the fence line into the street. He scanned the area, looking to his left and right trying to assess the damage; first a bystander, he wasn't hurt too bad, then a male in the street trying to help a wounded individual on the ground. Wonoski ran over to him and he could see the man was trying to apply a tourniquet, but he was having difficulties. Wonoski, thinking back to his EMT training, removed his belt and assisted the man by applying his tourniquet above the one already established. Once he felt safe to leave, Wonoski moved on, searching for the next person who needed assistance.

It was a small child who needed help. Two people were already working; one was applying a tourniquet. Wonoski moved in to check everything out and decided to stay with the child, talking to him and treating the child for shock.

Sometime later, as the ambulances started to roll in, a police officer started to force all the civilians back, asking them to move back a block.

"Instead of arguing, I know it was important to leave," said Wonoski. He could have fought back and showed the police officer his EMT card and CPR card or even mention to him that he was military and could help, but Wonoski needed to get back to his mother.

It took a while to meander his way back to where his mother was taking cover. The police kept pushing the crowd back, but eventually Wonoski was able to find his mother once again and the two eventually made their way back home.

But in the wake of such events, the afterthought brings forth a new reality, a critical analysis of who we are and what we did in response. In the case of Wonoski, his EMT training was only part of the reason he did what he did. Wonoksi also attributes a great deal of his actions to his military training from the U.S. Air Force.

"It certainly alters your reactions," said Wonoski. "I had no plan, I just went for it. The drills and the exercises changed the way we react."

According to Wonoski, he has certainly witnessed the attitude of, 'when am I ever going to need this training?' But, you never know when this type of training is going to be valuable.
That value is something that cannot be replaced and it goes to show why our Armed Forces train the way they do.

"I believe there is a direct link between the SABC [self-aid and buddy care] training that Dustin [Wonoski] has received over his Air Force career and the immediate impact he made at the Boston Marathon bombing," said Capt. Matthew Scheidel of the 103rd Logisitcs Readiness Squadron, and Wonoski's officer in charge. "Most people are not excited to do SABC training on drill, but it shows that the training pays off. It was great to hear that Dustin [reflected] the Connecticut Air National Guard in a positive light during such a tragic time."

As with tragedies that have happened before, each person must find their own way to move on and come to terms with the events that transpired.

"The next day we went out to dinner, and I told him that I'm really proud of the stupid thing you did," said Welsh, a sentiment to which any mother could relate. After a couple of days, the event started to sink in and when she finally saw the event unfold on television, Welsh said, "I realized how close we were, everybody was running with fear in their faces."
"Looking back now, I have a bit of survivor's guilt," said Wonoski, and thinking back, the thought of staying to do more and helping out longer crossed his mind.

Regardless of what he could have done, Wonoski still did more than what was asked of him. To the two people he helped, he was a hero.

"There were a lot of heroes that day. Anybody that jumped in to help was a hero in my eyes," said Welsh.

Wonoski, who is still currently serving in the Connecticut Guard plans to use his experience from that day and bring something back to the Airmen of the 103rd Airlift Wing. According to Wonoski, as a self-aid and buddy care instructor for his unit, he will definitely be spending more time on traumatic amputations. However, Wonoski also said he wants Airmen at the 103rd to constantly remain vigilant. We may be generally safe, but we are susceptible to attacks. Being part of the U.S. Air Force or Connecticut Air National Guard, we need keep an eye out, he said.