By SRA CHRISTIAN CONRAD, 60TH AIR MOBILITY WING PUBLIC AFFAIRS
The lack of streetlights only made it worse.
SrA Max Brunwasser, 660th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Combat Navigation Journeyman, was on his way to work in the early hours of September 8, 2020, straddling the dark, winding narrows of Highway 113 in his Subaru Legacy.
That morning, the wind was strong. Brunwasser could hear it battering against the thin pane of his driver’sside window, and his steering became erratic as he fought to compensate against the violent gusts that swirled around him.
Suddenly, the car ahead of Brunwasser lost control atop the road’s rough surface, flipping over and into the irrigation canal that ran adjacent to the highway.
“I immediately veered off to the shoulder,” Brunwasser said. “My one thought was, ‘I need to make sure everyone is okay.’ I sprinted over and jumped in.”
The water reached up to his waist. Even in the dense, weathered fabric of his military uniform, Brunwasser felt the cold rush of water reach up his nerves, stealing his breath for a moment while he waded closer to the vehicle, his heart racing all the while.
“The car was upside down, so I figured there might have been a risk of drowning,” Brunwasser said. “I got closer and I was right—the driver was in probably a good three or four feet of water.”
The driver was unresponsive to Brunwasser’s offers for aid as the vehicle was filling with water by the minute.
“I needed to get her out of her seatbelt—out of her seat,” said Brunwasser, a 3-year veteran of the Air Force. “I was able to free her, but she was still disoriented, maybe even in shock. I kept asking her ‘Is there anyone else inside,’ but I was not able to get a response. I went back into the canal, but did not find anyone. By the time I got back to her after all my searching, she was back to talking.”
It was the thought of others that initially compelled Brunwasser’s line of questioning.
“Even though I checked, I wanted to make sure,” Brunwasser said. “’Was there anyone else,’ I asked. ‘Were you the only one?’ They were the type of questions you hoped only had one answer.”
Thankfully, Brunwasser hoped right. “No” and “yes,” respectively, were her answers, although she was limited in her ability to speak English.
“I know some Spanish, but it is not something I am about to write on a resume,” Brunwasser laughed. “I tried my best, and between her best and mine, we were able to reach an understanding. It eventually came in handy.”
First responders showed up soon after a concerned passerby reported the accident.
“I translated for the first responders and we were able to get the driver the medical attention she needed,” Brunwasser said.
“True to his work ethic, Brunwasser still showed up to his shift that morning,” said TSgt Michelangelo Cortez, 660th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Communications/ Navigation Noncommissioned Officer in Charge.
“It is true to the Airman he is,” Cortez said.
“Leave it to Brunwasser to save a life and still show up for morning roll call,” Cortez chuckled. “The morning he came in, we were like, ‘Holy crap, are you okay?’ but he just kind of brushed it off. To him, it is always what he can give, never what he can get.”
Brunwasser, he explained, was not outside his normal tendencies when he pulled over that morning.
“Even on the flight line, it is always (Brunwasser) who is saying, ‘How can I help? What else is needed?’,” Cortez said. “Hearing about this [incident] was just more confirmation that he is a stand-up Airman—someone other junior enlisted and … even other members of the force can look to for inspiration.”
But for Brunwasser, what he did was not necessarily heroic but something ingrained into the ethos all military members subscribe to—a concern for others.
“Put any other Airman in the position I was in, and the same thing would have happened,” said Brunwasser, who last month was given a line number for Staff Sergeant, his next rank. “It is less a testament to who I am as a person and more about the culture we foster in the Air Force.”
Now on his way to work, Brunwasser still passes the irrigation canal he jumped in. He takes stock in his good fortune—that he was there and able to help save his fellow motorist.