Driving through Kansas rainstorms from Leawood toward Lawrence, Army Spc. Darin McQueen of the Kansas Army National Guard noticed a young girl sitting on the edge of a bridge along Kansas Highway 10. Her feet were hanging off the side, so McQueen immediately told Staff Sgt. Joshua Thompson, a noncommissioned officer in charge, about it.
"It was very unusual to see someone sitting on the bridge when it was raining pretty heavily. [It] meant someone wasn’t doing OK," McQueen said. "With all the military training we attend, learning to spot indicators, this was just a more obvious one."
"McQueen was very adamant about stopping to check on her," said Sgt. Caleb Grady, who was with McQueen and Thompson. "His insistence really got us to come together to know that this needed to be addressed."
The soldiers, assigned to the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 137th Infantry Regiment, are assisting with a food packaging and distribution mission as part of the Kansas National Guard’s COVID-19 response. But inside the van, the routine for the day had changed as their training kicked in.They acted quickly.
"Seconds after seeing her, we decided to turn around," Thompson said. "I called our commander and told him we were going to be late returning from our mission, giving him the situation report as we pulled up to the bridge."
"Every soldier is a sensor, a reporter, and this really showcases that," said Cadet Anthony Swanson. "Their response was the epitome of what it means to be a Guardsman."
Thompson and Grady got out of the van and started to approach the girl when they noticed she was crying and nudging herself closer to the edge. Assessing the situation, Thompson slowly approached, asking her questions while trying to get her attention and keep her calm.
"What’s your name? What are you doing there?" Thompson asked. "She wanted to know why we had stopped when so many before us had driven by and yelled for her to jump."
Continuing to talk to her and trying to defuse the situation, Thompson walked toward her while Grady went around the edge of the bridge and made his way down the side of the incline.
"I climbed down into the ravine and got under her," Grady said. "Every time she would look down, she would see me instead of what she was planning on doing."
Cpl. Ethan Payne, a fourth member of their crew, placed a phone call to emergency services. Others in the van got out and started directing traffic to other lanes to prevent a secondary incident.
A Helping Hand
Thompson reached out his hand to the girl and offered to talk. When she accepted his help, he picked her up from the edge of the bridge and carried her to the van, where the other guardsmen sat and spoke with her. They actively listened and engaged in conversation with her until emergency crews arrived.
"I tried to talk to her about things she could relate to once she was in the van -- tried to keep her mind off what was bothering her," McQueen said.
Once Kansas Highway Patrol and the Douglas County Sheriff's Office arrived, the soldiers continued chatting with the girl and promised to take her bike to her house. Emergency Services notified the family of the situation and transported the girl somewhere to get help. The guardsmen then followed through on their promise and delivered her bike to her home.
Payne said the one thing those in need should remember in their darkest times is that people care -- no matter what you think.
Capt. Matthew Indermuehle, the commander of the soldiers involved in the rescue, said that being in the guard is an added responsibility to the community. When someone chooses to serve, they likely have a desire to serve and a selfless heart.
"My soldiers train to be able to handle these situations. By assessing that there was a need, [they] had the strong moral courage to turn around and do what was right," Indermuehle said. "They were in the right place at the right time and able to help someone in need."