Two 22-year-old trainees at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, were promoted to E-2 after they stopped a fellow trainee from hanging himself Sept. 3, one week into basic combat training, post officials said in an Army news release.
Carlos Fontanez and Ari Till, of A Battery, 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery, were promoted outside their battalion headquarters in front of 230 of their fellow trainees Friday, the release stated.
The two men had only been in basic combat training for a week when the incident occurred, according to their battery commander, Capt. Bianca Huntsman.
“Within the first 72 hours after getting off the bus, trainees get a briefing about suicidal ideations, signs and symptoms,” she said in the release. “They saw something that was wrong, and they stepped up."
Fontanez and Till’s promotions were authorized by Gen. Paul Funk, who helms Army Training and Doctrine Command.
The incident occurred on a Thursday morning, as both men found their fellow trainee attempting suicide with a PT belt inside the latrines.
Fontanez began to suspect the trainee intended to hurt himself in the first week of training, but did not detail the exact events that led him to that conclusion.
“He slept to the right of me. … With previous events that had happened, I kind of realized maybe I should talk to him,” said Fontanez, in a video released by the Army. “In the latrine I saw what was going down and I was just telling him, ‘C’mon, think about what you’re about to do.’”
Fontanez first found the fellow trainee attempting to fashion his PT belt into a noose and quickly grabbed him. Till, who was busy cleaning, heard the commotion and came in to help.
“I lifted him up so he could breathe, and Till unclipped the PT belt, and we just got him down and stayed by him until he got help,” Fontanez explained in the video.
The two trainees brought the situation to their cadre after addressing the immediate danger. Huntsman said in the release that the trainee whose life Fontanez and Till saved is currently in a medical facility, but is anticipated to eventually restart basic training.
Lt. Col. Mark Larson, the soldier’s battalion commander, presented both trainees with a unit coin, thanking them for their quick actions.
Till said in the video that he was hesitant to keep the coin at first, because he has had personal relationships with people who have had similar mental health crises.
“I didn’t want a reminder." Till said. “But the longer time has passed I like having it because it is a reminder that [he] is okay, and there are people out there that will do the right thing.”
Till plans to become an orthopedic specialist and will go at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, after graduating from basic. Fontanez will head to Fort Lee, Virginia, to become a heavy-load mechanic, according to the release. Their battery is scheduled to graduate in November.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Press 1 for the Military Crisis Line. You can also text 838255.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.