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Soldiers save a life, serve their community in alternate role during coronavirus response

By Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer, Colorado National Guard Public Affairs | CONG, TAG | April 25, 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 changed the way of life for most people worldwide. For members of the Colorado National Guard, activated by Gov. Jared Polis to assist with incident response efforts, their skills have been tested beyond their military assignments and training. 

For many of those CONG members, doing their part to help Coloradans is one of the main reasons they signed up to serve in the National Guard.  However, the military job they signed up for is not necessarily the job that they have been asked to do.

U.S. Army Spc. Jo England, communication specialist, and Pfc. Harold Taylor, signal support systems specialist, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, typically perform duties related to radio communications at their home unit in Colorado Springs.

Now, assigned to Joint Task Force Shelter Support, they are supporting the City and County of Denver, by working at the Denver Rescue Mission.  They care for those experiencing homelessness during COVID-19 by serving food and helping staff maintain the facility.

Nearly 300 Colorado National Guard members are also assisting in this effort.

While England and Taylor served the lunchtime meal April 14, one of the guests began to choke.

“I could see the guest was having a tough time breathing, when suddenly the man made the universal choking sign of holding his hands around his neck,” Taylor said. “So I quickly turned the man around and proceeded to give him the Heimlich maneuver, but I wasn’t able to dislodge the food.”

England, serving food alongside Taylor, noticed what was happening and moved to assist her teammate. 

Realizing the Heimlich maneuver wasn’t working, England attempted another tactic, smacking his upper back to clear the blockage.

“I’ve seen healthcare workers at my full-time job do it before, and I’m CPR certified,” she said. “So I knew where to hit him in order for it to have the most impact and dislodge the food.”

England’s training worked, and the piece of broccoli dislodged, saving the man’s life. 

After this incident, England and Taylor returned to their jobs serving the guests of the Mission and continuing business as usual. 

England said she thought about the event afterward and how, at the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal.

“When I got back to the hotel I was thinking, he was really in trouble,” she said. “I was proud that I could help him and that I was there at the right time.”

”I am so very proud of these Soldiers for going above and beyond their duties to save the life of an individual experiencing homelessness in our city,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said. “They are living examples of the selfless dedication of the men and women serving in our Colorado National Guard.”

England, Taylor, and the rest of the activated CONG members have had to adapt to the unknown. As citizen warriors, they’ve pledged to be there for the community, serving in any capacity needed. As Guard members, they represent and reflect the CONG’s 160-year tradition: “Always Ready.  Always There.”