EL PASO, Texas - An El Paso woman finally got a chance Thursday to thank three soldiers who rescued her from a car wreck in January. The troops just returned from a nine-month tour in Afghanistan last week.
"It's fantastic seeing how far she's come since the incident," said Spc. Michael Black.
Linda Hartman and a fellow White Sands Missile Range gate guard on the morning of Jan. 5 were traveling south on New Mexico State Highway 213, north of Chaparral, when their black Honda Civic hit a patch of ice. The car veered off the highway, hit a guardrail and flipped six times. The passenger door ripped off, and the driver held Hartman inside the car.
Three members of the Wisconsin Army National Guard -- Black, Spc. Joshua Aprill and Sgt. 1st Class Todd Richter -- were returning home from training at White Sands. They just wanted to go to sleep, Black said, but when they stopped at the scene, they realized a nightmare had already begun.
"Thank you," Hartman said Thursday while embracing Black at Fort Bliss.
What else could she say to the people who saved her from eternity -- but kept her in hell?
"I looked down, and I saw my femur broken through my pants, and then I saw blood," Hartman said.
Hartman had four cracked ribs, a split sternum and two broken legs. Not a pleasant wake-up call.
"It felt like a dream," said Hartman, who was asleep during the accident.
The soldiers cleared debris from the road, stabilized her head and spoke to her to keep her from going into shock.
"Seeing where she started, and the amount of trauma that she suffered, it's amazing -- the spirit that she's kept up through the entire ordeal," Black said.
Hartman has endured multiple surgeries. Doctors removed her knee joint and plan to conduct bone-grafting operations. But things could have been a lot worse, she said, had she not been wearing a seat belt. Her co-worker, who was driving the vehicle at the time of the crash, was unharmed.
Richter and Aprill have been recommended and approved for Army Commendation Medals. Black, a combat medic, has been recommended for the Soldier's Medal, one of the highest honors a soldier can receive in a civilian setting.
"These gentlemen are part of my family now," Hartman said. "If they weren't there, and Mike weren't the expert person out of them, I would not be here. My family wouldn't have me, and my friends wouldn't have me. And I owe that to them. All of them."