By Regena Kowitz
Navy Medicine West Public Affairs
When Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Ashley Raynor was headed home from work on Feb. 23, southbound on California’s Interstate 5 alongside the Pacific Ocean, the last thing she expected was to be one of the first people to arrive at the scene of an accident.
When traffic came to a sudden halt, Raynor saw a three-car collision just ahead. One car was severely damaged and facing oncoming traffic. Two other cars, while not as badly damaged, showed signs of being involved in the collision.
Fortunately for the victims of the crash, Raynor wasn’t just any commuter headed home after a long day at work. She was a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman, and she was ready with the knowledge and skills to jump into action and provide aid to the injured. Not only was Raynor a corpsman, with advanced training as a dental technician, she was also an experienced basic life support (BLS) instructor, responsible for training other corpsmen, dentists, and doctors to teach these skills to others.
Raynor’s readiness that day was the direct result of her training. But being ready to give aid at the scene of an accident didn’t happen overnight. For Raynor, who’s attached to 1st Dental Battalion/Naval Dental Center (NDC) Camp Pendleton, the journey towards readiness began when she joined the Navy.
Born in Virginia and raised in Kingsport, Tennessee, Raynor enlisted in 2010. After successfully completing 16 weeks of training at Hospital Corps “A” School in Great Lakes, Illinois, Raynor had another seven weeks of training to go before becoming a dental technician.
“After I graduated both schools, I finally received my caduceus—something that, for dental techs, can only be earned upon successful completion of both medical and dental basic training,” said Raynor.
Raynor’s first few years in the Navy primarily involved assisting general dentists and specialists with patient care.
“I gained experience in several specialties, including prosthodontics, periodontics, oral surgery, oral diagnosis and sick call, pedodontics, and more,” said Raynor. “I have had the pleasure of working with new docs and very experienced docs, all of whom have taught me so many hands-on skills and procedures. The dental officer and technician relationship is unlike any other in the military, and the mentorship is daily as we work side-by-side, sharing the same goal of caring for the patient in our chair.”
In addition to developing her skills as a dental technician, Raynor’s experience has helped her grow as a leader. She has served as a leading petty officer not only in dental clinics, but also in medical settings such as the surgical services directorate at U.S. Naval Hospital Rota, Spain.
“These departments were on the medical side of the house and out of my comfort zone, but the hands-on training as well as the medical training I had received in Corps School helped me to be successful as I took on the role of the sole general surgery tech and led the ambulatory procedural unit, and the anesthesia and post-anesthesia units,” said Raynor. “There, I was mentored by two experienced general surgeons and assisted with minor procedures, colonoscopies and upper endoscopies, hernia repair, cystectomies and more.”
Now, Raynor focuses on paying it forward by leading Sailors attached to her current command, 1st Dental Battalion/NDC Camp Pendleton. She uses what she’s learned about mentoring and teaching over the past eight years to challenge them to be better providers and leaders.
“My Sailors mean everything to me because they are the force walking the deckplates and caring for our patients to support our vision of being a highly capable staff in charge of providing quality health care to our warfighters,” she said.
Supporting her Sailors means ensuring they are trained and prepared for whatever may come their way. From the classroom to field exercises, training, says Raynor, instills confidence to act in emergency situations – just like the one she found herself facing that day in February.
Without hesitation, Raynor pulled over and ran towards the scene of the accident, towards the most visibly damaged car. When she arrived, there was a Marine and a retired Soldier pulling on the car door, attempting to get the victim, a Sailor, out of the vehicle, but the door was stuck.
“Being familiar with the units under our care, I instantly recognized the Sailor inside as a patient in our dental clinic,” said Raynor.
Raynor immediately began speaking with the Sailor, asking if he remembered her from the dental clinic and asked how he was feeling.
“He communicated that he was weak and confused,” Raynor said. “I noticed he had blood all over his hand and the back of his head and neck. The Marine offered to pull him from the window, but the Soldier and I decided to keep him stabilized and not attempt extraction in order to avoid furthering aggravating his head injury. We also turned off his engine to avoid a fuel fire.”
After helping the Sailor contact his family, Raynor asked the Marine to stay with him while she went to check on the victims in the other cars. After assessing them, Raynor determined they had minor injuries and returned to the first victim.
“At this point, he was rapidly becoming weaker and more frantic, repeatedly saying how he needed to call his wife, since he didn’t remember already doing so,” said Raynor. “I aided him in reaching out to her again and continued to ensure he maintained eye contact with me in order to check his ability to focus. He then saw the blood on his hand and was questioning how it got there. He no longer seemed to remember anything and my gut told me that he might be going into shock based on the signs.”
Keeping the Sailor calm and talking, Raynor helped keep him stabilized until an ambulance arrived nearly 20 minutes later due to congestion from rush hour and the accident. After emergency medical services (EMS) personnel were on scene, Raynor gave them a report about the incident and the victims’ conditions.
“I felt relieved and happy that I could turn him over to the next highest echelon of care, which is what we are taught to do in training,” Raynor said. “Keep them surviving until the next point, and the next, and so on.”
For Raynor, knowing that all her training up to that point made her ready to handle an emergency medical situation and keep a patient stable until EMS arrived provided satisfaction in a job well done.
“I definitely feel that my training has been beneficial,” said Raynor. “In this situation, the things that immediately came to my mind were things I have learned as a BLS provider, as well as in Tactical Combat Casualty Care courses.”
Frequent training and constant practice, according to Raynor, enhance the ability to think on our feet in crises, and are important to mission readiness.
“As humans, we are at risk for becoming complacent in our skills,” Raynor said. “Training and refresher training are imperative to ensure we can perform even the smallest task from bandage application to the most important task of saving a life, in order to keep our warfighters healthy, safe, and effectively treated with the best care possible in every situation.”
When the unexpected happened on a February day along a highway in Southern California, the victims of a three-car collision were fortunate that Raynor was trained and ready.