Sgt. Trey Troney of Fort Bliss was on his way home for Christmas to Raleigh, Mississippi — a small town about 1,000 miles east — when the 20-year-old field artillery cannon crewmember saw an accident on Interstate 20 near Sweetwater, Texas.
And Troney pulled over and jumped into action.
He found Jeff Udger of Longview, Texas, slumped over the steering wheel of his truck, so Troney asked two men to help him pry open the door, the U.S. Army said.
The scene of an accident on Interstate 20 near Sweetwater, Texas, Dec. 22, 2018, involving an 18-wheeler and two pickup trucks.Image source: army.mil
Noticing Udger suffered a bad gash on his head, Troney took off his brand-new "Salute to Service" New Orleans Saints hoodie and wrapped it around the victim's head to help stop the bleeding, the Army said.
At that point, Udger was still conscious enough to joke about his circumstance, Troney recalled.
'Well, this is Cowboy country, so I don't know how I feel about you wrapping me up in a Saints hoodie'
The accident victim — not a Saints' fan by any stretch — remarked to Troney: "Well, this is Cowboy country, so I don't know how I feel about you wrapping me up in a Saints hoodie."
But the lighthearted mood didn't last long.
Troney noticed the left side of Udger's chest wasn't moving and realized that meant a collapsed lung. So the sergeant ran back to his Jeep in the hopes he'd find first aid supplies remaining his brigade's recent rotation at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, the Army said.
Fortunately, there was a needle chest compression and a first-aid kit, and Troney rushed back to Udger.
Medics had taught Troney first-aid skills as part of his field training, so using the needle chest compression wasn't a problem for him — until he found the needle was too small to reach Udger's collapsed lung and relieve pressure, the Army said.
A ballpoint pen
So the sergeant was forced to improvise — and after finding a ballpoint pen, he did just that.
Troney tore off the ends of the pen, removed the ink tube, and was left with the hollow plastic casing.
"I took the NCD and put it right in the hole and kind of wiggled [the pen's casing] in with my hand in between the ribs, and you just started to see the bubbles come out of the tip, and I was like, 'OK, we're good,'" Troney told the Army.
An arriving state trooper remarked, "Did you just put an ink pen between his ribs?"
"I was like, 'I did,'" Troney recalled to the Army. "And [the trooper] was like, 'He's on no pain meds,' and I said, 'Oh, he felt it, but he's unconscious. He lost consciousness as I was running back to my Jeep because he had lost a lot of blood.'"
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When the ambulance arrived about 10 minutes later, the paramedics credited Troney with saving Udger's life, and the state trooper bought him food at the truck stop up the road. Still, Troney said he was afraid Udger might try to seek legal action if he had made any mistakes. To the contrary, Udger, as soon as he recovered enough to respond, has been contacting government officials, the media and Troney's chain of command -- all the way up to his brigade commander, Col. Michael Trotter -- and telling them how thankful he is for Troney's actions.
"In an urgent situation [Troney] showed amazing patience and continuous care," Udger wrote in an email regarding the Dec. 22 accident. "He kept talking to me and acted as if the situation was no pressure at all."
Udger told the Army he's glad Troney left behind his email address so he could contact him, and he even offered to replace Troney's hoodie — but the sergeant said giving up his hoodie was nothing and Udger there's no need for him to replace it.
Doctors expect Udger to make a full recovery, the accident victim told the Army.
Troney — who's assigned to Battery C, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division — told the Army that medics made sure he and other soldiers knew combat medicine basics forward and backward.
"We train over and over; it's like muscle memory," Troney said. "Not to sound biased, but at 2-3 … they're some of the best combat medics that I've ever met."
'He is a man of action and excels in times of adversity'
Capt. Angel Alegre — Troney's battery commander — told the Army he's not surprised by the sergeant's actions.
"Put simply, he is a man of action and excels in times of adversity. It's what he does best," Alegre said. "Sgt. Troney is very attentive and places great emphasis on all Army training."
And while being so prepared came second nature to Troney, others unaccustomed to such training and presence of mind might say the outcome "is nothing short of a miracle."
Troney wasn't dressed like soldier that day — but he took charge and got things done when it mattered most.
"I was in a pair of jogging pants and a T-shirt on the side of a highway and somebody's life depended on me slightly knowing a little bit [about emergency medical care]," Troney recalled to the Army. "It wasn't anything crazy [that I knew], but to [Udger], it was his world."
'You will always be my hero'
Udger told Troney something else in an email that means the world to him: "Young man, you will always be my hero. Continue to give back to this world and the people in it. You truly will never know when you will make a life-changing impact to someone."
Troney said he couldn't agree more.
"You're just there, and you might have what they need," he added to the Army. "He needed an ink pen to the ribs. Luckily I had an ink pen."