The soldiers had passed the Washington Monument and were coming up on the midpoint of their morning jog, the U.S. Capitol. They didn’t see the Metro bus hit the man, but they heard the thud, which jolted them from the quiet rhythm of their run.
U.S. Army Sgts. John Russell and Brian Williams rushed to a man lying on the Mall on Wednesday morning and let their training from Afghanistan and Iraq take over. They turned bystanders’ T-shirts into tourniquets to stem blood flowing from a badly fractured leg and dress a gash on the victim’s forehead.
The last time Russell and Williams encountered casualties, they were under fire in Afghanistan, separately treating soldiers felled by insurgent snipers and a roadside bomb that overturned an armored vehicle.
“You realize that the guy lying in front of you needs help, that he just happened to be in the wrong place and you in the right place,” said Russell, 37. “The man, he was beat up pretty bad when we ran over to him.”
The friends returned from war four years ago and settled into more sedentary lives in the Washington suburbs — Russell with his wife and 5-year-old son, Blake, in Fairfax; Williams with his wife and 13-year-old son, Anthony, in Alexandria.
Williams, 30, is originally from Baltimore. Before Wednesday, the last time he treated patients was in 2009 when a vehicle in his convoy in Logar province, south of Kabul, hit an explosive device planted along a road. While under fire, he helped pull three of his unit members from the overturned vehicle, treating them for concussions and other trauma, he recalled.
Russell, from Tennessee, remembered the precise date that he last encountered trauma. It was Oct. 18, 2009, at the end of a 28-day mission training Afghan national police officers in the Kunar province, near the Pakistan border, one of the region’s most volatile districts.
Replacements came under attack as they approached the base, overrun by up to 50 insurgents, Russell said, leaving a Marine colonel wounded in the head, an army sergeant struck in the neck and another soldier hit in the ankle. Russell said he and others waded in under enemy fire and bandaged the injured using some of the same techniques, including makeshift tourniquets, that he used on the Mall.
The sergeant struck in the neck walked himself to a medic helicopter, but the colonel was paralyzed, Russell said. “We got them out of the kill zone while they were still being shot at,” he said.
No bullets were flying on the Mall on Wednesday, but Russell — who before Afghanistan had been stationed in Iraq, Cuba and Germany — said that his mind immediately focused on his patient, unaware of his surroundings, be it a battlefield or a national park.
“At that point, it became only about getting the guy treated,” Russell said. Of being on the Mall at the time, he said, “It was a stroke of luck.”
Russell and Williams are assigned to the 289th Military Police Company at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.
The friends lead platoons, help protect the base and support operations at the cemetery, including the Old Guard, the Army’s oldest active duty infantry unit that handles ceremonial duties at the White House and Pentagon and stands vigil at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
At the time of the accident, they had been on a weekly run from Arlington to the Capitol and back again — a nearly 20-mile round trip that takes them on a meandering route over the Potomac River and around the monuments.
The accident occurred about 7:15 a.m. at Seventh Street and Madison Drive near the National Gallery of Art. The circumstances of the accident are under investigation by D.C. police, who did not release the victim’s name.
Metro spokeswoman Morgan Dye said the jogger apparently ran into the street against a traffic light and struck the right side of the northbound bus. The driver was placed on paid leave, which is routine.
A D.C. fire department spokesman confirmed that two men who identified themselves as Army soldiers were treating the patient when the paramedics arrived. Kenneth B. Ellerbe, the chief of D.C.’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, praised the soldiers’ efforts and noted the advantages to being in a city with a “well-trained civilian population.”
Neither soldier said they saw the accident, but they had slowed their pace because the pedestrian-crossing light at the intersection was red as they approached.
D.C. police and fire officials described the injuries as serious, and Russell and Williams said the victim, who is in his 40s, suffered a compound leg fracture, among other injuries.
In addition to treating his injuries, the soldiers said they cradled his head and talked to him until paramedics arrived — four minutes after a bystander called 911. They were worried he would lose consciousness. He told them he worked for the Department of Transportation and that his name was Tim.
Other than that, Russell and Williams know nothing about their patient. He was wearing a shirt promoting the annual Army Ten-Miler road race.
The soldiers said they finished their run after the man was taken to a hospital.
Lori Aratani contributed to this report