While deployed to Afghanistan, Army Sgt. Chris Hemwall worked alongside medics, who taught him basic life support techniques, and even provided him a tourniquet, which he would use to save his own life during an ambush in March 2011.
The deployment also helped spark Hemwall’s interest in earning an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification that he received this month, from the EMT training course at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), making him the first wounded warrior to complete the course at the nation’s medical center.
The Army cavalry scout lost his right leg after the ambush in Afghanistan, and has been in treatment at WRNMMC for roughly three years. The Soldier said he is pleased to be the first wounded warrior to complete the course at WRNMMC, but couldn’t have done it without support from his leadership, and his wife, Valerie.
“All of my squad leaders stepped in one way or another,” Hemwall said. “I have an amazing support group.”
The training, May 5 through June 5, followed national guidelines and included 125 hours of course work and hands-on instruction, Hemwall said, such as basic lifesaving skills, first aid, and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). It was challenging, as it covered material from several book chapters each day, and required participants to take, and pass, multiple tests throughout the month, he added.
At the end of the course, participants had to pass a final exam, and those who did not pass had to retake the entire training, Hemwall explained. Those who passed, including Hemwall, were eligible to take the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) exam, to receive national EMT certification. On June 16, the wounded warrior took and passed the NREMT exam, on the first try. According to the NREMT website, of those who took the exam last year in Maryland, less than 70 percent passed on their first try.
Prior to earning his certification, Hemwall explained his leadership ensured he was medically clear to participate, and that he was still able to make his appointments. Now in the process of medically retiring from the military, he plans to start an internship with the Fire Department onboard Naval Support Activity Bethesda this summer. He also hopes to volunteer as an EMT for Montgomery County.
Hemwall said he has always looked up to his father, a firefighter, and hopes to go into either firefighting, or law enforcement, when he is out of the military, so he can continue to serve.
“I want to serve my community and serve their families, keep their families safe while they’re gone, [and] give them peace of mind,” Hemwall said.
With these aspirations, the Soldier said he decided to take advantage of the EMT training offered at WRNMMC. While he is proud of this achievement, he said, overall, he is proud of the people he has come to know in the military, and is proud to say he was able to provide aid to others in combat. While stationed near Kandahar Province, Hemwall was shot three times during an ambush, suffering nerve damage and later losing his right leg. Two of his fellow service members were killed in the attack, and three others were wounded, he said.
Billy Mitchell, program director of Emergency and Tactical Medicine at WRNMMC, attests to Hemwall’s determination. An EMT training instructor, Mitchell said Hemwall was motivated, and “very cheerful,” and “an inspiration to those around him.”
“He showed by example that he didn't make any excuses for anything,” Mitchell said. “I do believe he will succeed in whatever he does because he has the drive, determination and heart to complete any task.”
Hemwall’s squad leader, Sgt. Luis Rivera, 2nd Platoon, Battle Company, Warrior Transition Brigade, shared the same sentiment, stating, “Sgt. Hemwall is always trying to find a way to improve in his career for his family … Sgt. Hemwall is an exceptional Soldier and a role model for any Soldier in transition. You will always see him motivated and trying to push other Soldiers to progress in their recovery.”
Not only is he an exceptional Soldier, but a friend, Rivera added.
“[Sgt. Hemwall] will not only take care of other Soldiers, he will do his best to take care of his leadership,” he continued. “If you are having a bad day, the person you want to come to see is Sgt. Hemwall. He will do his best to make you laugh and will always offer himself to help.”
Rivera also said he believes the wounded warrior will be successful in his future endeavors because he is motivated to overcome any obstacle. He added, “Sgt. Hemwall is a pure example of what an NCO is in the U.S. Army and why NCOs are the backbone of the Army.”
Hemwall’s greatest accomplishment, though, is being a role model to his fellow service members, and especially to his 1-year-old son, Hemwall said.
The Soldier added he enjoys keeping busy. He’s also working on earning a scuba certification, and is submitting his times to the Warrior Games, in hopes of being chosen as an alternate for either the biking or running competitions.