STAFF SGT. JUAN ESTEBAN RESTREPO-POSADA
Headquarters and Headquarters Company
297th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade
Alaska Army National Guard
Have you ever wondered how a Soldier feels after coming home from a deployment in a country like Iraq? After living in dangerous and demanding conditions for a year or more, some of us feel incredibly strong — almost invincible. That feeling of invincibility got me into a dangerous situation during the winter of 2007.
I’d recently come home from a deployment and was employed at an aviation unit in Anchorage, Alaska. The holidays had finally arrived and I was looking forward to returning to my hometown of Fairbanks, about 350 miles north, and spending time with family. About halfway through my six-hour drive home, it started snowing heavily, forcing many of the other motorists on the road to pull off onto the shoulder. I slowed down, but there was no way that I was going to pull over and waste valuable time I could spend with loved ones.
After about a half-hour, the road was completely empty. It was now just me, some good music and the road ahead. Everything was going well until I started descending a hill and lost control of my car. I spun down the hill for about 300 feet before sliding down a 40-foot drop-off and into a ditch. So there I was, 40 feet down from the roadway during a snowstorm with no other vehicles in sight. Fortunately, I was prepared.
Sometime earlier, I’d taken another Soldier’s advice and put together a coffee can survival kit. The idea behind the kit is to fill a coffee can or similar-sized container with some essential items to help you survive for a day or two should you ever become stranded. I never thought I’d have to use mine.
I lit a few flares to alert any passing motorists, covered myself with a survival blanket and waited to be rescued as I munched on a power bar I’d packed in the can. After about three hours, however, not a single vehicle had passed. Things weren’t looking good.
Eventually, the weather improved enough for me to climb back up to the roadway, where I was able to flag down a truck. As he drove me to the nearest town, the truck driver said he never would have imagined seeing someone standing alongside the road in minus 20 F temperatures with 40-plus mph winds. I told him I never thought I’d be caught in that situation either. I was just thankful I was equipped with my survival kit, which helped protect me until my rescue.
There are many lessons to be learned from my close call. The ones that most stand out in my mind are: nobody is invincible, Mother Nature doesn’t play games and it is imperative to always be prepared for an emergency. Sometimes, even the smallest things, such as packing a coffee can survival kit, can increase your chances of survival exponentially.
There are many online resources to help you determine what you need to pack in your coffee can survival kit. Here’s a list of items recommended by the Fort Wainwright Installation Safety Office:
• First aid kit
• Fire starter
• Hand warmers
• Duct tape
• Survival guide
• Signal mirror
• 550 cord
• Water bottle
• Waterproof match box and matches
• Flashlight and batteries
• Emergency blanket
I hope none of you ever have to use your emergency kit. In the event you do, however, it really can make a bad situation better. Remember, preparedness is the key to survival.