By Patrick Buffett, Fort Lee Public Affairs Office
FORT LEE, Va. – Credited with saving an Army captain’s life, three individuals received Certificates of Appreciation for Patriotic Civilian Service at an Army Logistics University ceremony here Tuesday.
Col. Brent D. Coryell, ALU commandant, presented the awards and lapel pins to Robert “Shepp” Willoughby from Richmond, Velencia Valentine from Hopewell, and Jessica Larche, spouse of a Combined Arms Support Command military member.
Among the senior leaders in attendance were John E. Hall, deputy to the CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general; Michael K. Williams, ALU president; and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jonathan O. Yerby, CASCOM CWO.
Capt. Jonathan Chatman, a 32-year-old Captain’s Career Course student, had just started his workout on Dec. 6 at Gold’s Gym in Colonial Heights where Willoughby and Valentine work. “I was doing a few deadlifts and warmups when I blanked out,” he recalled. “I seriously don’t remember anything after that until I woke up in the hospital.”
Willoughby saw Chatman go down and went to assist, assuming he had simply fainted from overexertion. Larche, a nurse practitioner who was working out at the facility as well, also witnessed the incident and went to help. She noticed right away that his breathing was irregular.
“Then it stopped completely, so I started CPR,” Larche said.
Valentine retrieved the facility’s automated external defibrillator while Willoughby called for an ambulance. Larche stayed at Chatman’s side, applying the methodical skills she had learned over many years as an emergency room assistant. With two applications of the AED device, a heartbeat returned and paramedics arrived to transport the captain to the VCU medical center.
“One thing I clearly remember about the incident – amid the shock of this person possibly dying in front of you and the frantic response to keep that from happening – is the group of patrons kneeling and praying in the corner,” Willoughby reflected. “Maybe that made the difference. I know it was a very fortunate coincidence that Jessica happened to be there because she did an amazing job performing CPR, applying the AED and directing the situation.”
Chatman similarly hinted at the “grace of God” that allowed him to continue living and be a part of his one- and five-year-old daughters’ lives. He spent 14 days in the hospital. Doctors implanted a defibrillator as a safeguard against near-future heart attacks.
“I’m getting stronger every day,” he said with a clearly celebratory smile. “I can lift my smallest daughter in the air, go out walking and enjoy spending time with both of them. My wife (Tabitha, attending the Captain’s Career Course for the Adjutant General Corps at Fort Jackson, S.C.) will carry on the Army duties. I’ll be medically discharged at some point in the near future.
“Without a doubt, this is a life-changing thing,” he further observed. “It kind of puts everything into perspective. It says, ‘You can’t be that hard-charger anymore. You need to take care of yourself. You need to be here for your family.’”
Chatman took the opportunity to thank two of his rescuers on the day following his release from the hospital when he returned to Gold’s Gym to learn what had happened. “She nearly fell out when she saw me,” he said of Valentine.
The ceremony Tuesday was his first opportunity to express appreciation to Larche.
“It’s hard to look at them as a group right now because there’s too much emotion. I’m a big softie, and I don’t want to cry in front of everybody,” the captain said while turning to his rescuers and continuing. “Without a doubt, though, I’m deeply appreciative of what you did for me. When I woke up in that hospital bed, and I didn’t know where I was or anything …”
He didn’t finish the statement.
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Fort Lee is the Army’s Home of Sustainment and supports the training, education and development of adaptive Army logistics professionals. Major organizations on the installation include the Defense Commissary Agency, Defense Contract Management Agency, Combined Arms Support Command, the Army Logistics University, U.S. Army Ordnance School, U.S. Army Quartermaster School and U.S. Army Transportation School. Fort Lee supports more than 90,000 Soldiers, retirees, veterans, family members and civilian employees in the local area with a regional economic impact of about $2.4 billion per year.