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Chris Rosenblum: Adam Hartswick teaching lifesaving lessons

Adam Hartswick, at right in a wheelchair, teaches a Tactical Combat Casualty Care course for EMTs and firefighters in New Jersey.
Adam Hartswick, at right in a wheelchair, teaches a Tactical Combat Casualty Care course for EMTs and firefighters in New Jersey. Photo provided

As far as Adam Hartswick and his parents were concerned, Capt. Douglas Hill’s money was no good.

Two years ago, Hill flew the Medevac helicopter that rushed Hartswick from an Afghanistan battlefield to a hospital after the Pine Grove Mills native lost his legs from an IED blast while serving as an Army senior medic.

The two stayed in touch afterward and recently reunited under happier circumstances. While on leave, Hill drove from Ohio to State College. Over dinner at a local restaurant, he then caught up with the young man he had last seen clinging to life on board his Dustoff Black Hawk.

“Both my parents came,” Hartswick said. “They got to thank him. He didn’t buy a thing.”

Hill, one of the Army’s top Medevac pilots, was curious. He had helped give second chances to many soldiers. Where was Hartswick going with his?

“He just wanted to know what I was doing with my life, and how I was doing,” Hartswick said.

Very well, thank you, busy sharing his valuable, hard-won knowledge.

Hartswick, 24, continues to grow stronger with his prosthetic legs, healing from his injuries suffered when he triggered an explosion while aiding wounded soldiers. In the immediate aftermath, he likely saved his own life by calmly telling a platoon lieutenant how to tie tourniquets on both thighs.

He’s no longer a sergeant, but he’s still instructing.

These days in the civilian world, Hartswick teaches battlefield medical techniques to emergency medical technicians, firefighters and law enforcement personnel, drawing on his experiences from treating combat wounds during two tours and from leading lifesaving classes for fellow medics and soldiers.

After his medical discharge in April, he joined Techline Technologies, a Willow Grove-based company that conducts traumatic injury training for emergency first responders, as well as makes realistic-looking wounds and other trauma simulation equipment for military medic training.

Hartswick’s courses are modeled after the military’s established Tactical Combat Casualty Care procedures. Over two-day courses, students learn to secure, stabilize, treat and evacuate severely wounded people while under duress in dangerous, chaotic situations such as a shooting or a bomb attack.

Still living locally, Hartswick traveled to Mahwah, N.J., in late May for his first course. He made an immediate impression.

Two dozen students, mostly EMTs and firefighters, listened to his tourniquet story from Afghanistan. There before them stood living proof that TLCC methods work, and they reacted in unison.

Awed silence.

“It was completely quiet and they were listening,” Hartswick said.

That’s what Craig Hall envisioned when he recruited Hartswick.

Hall, a Techline senior instructor and Montgomery County EMT, was impressed after reading initial news stories about Hartswick and his recovery. If Hartswick could instruct somebody while in shock and gravely wounded, his legs blown off, he could teach anybody.

“Just from the articles, you could see the strength and perseverance, and especially the will to survive,” Hall said. “That type of perseverance, that type of work-to-the-solution-and-move-on mindset, is one of the key concepts that we try to convey in our classes.”

Moreover, Hall and Hartswick shared a common background, both having started as EMTs in State College. It was an easy call on Hall’s part. Through social media, he contacted Hartswick, then visited him at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Hartswick and his father, a career soldier, joined Hall for dinner. That evening, Hall made his offer. When Hartswick was ready, he had a job waiting for him.

“He took a gamble on me,” Hartswick said, recalling his elation. “He knew that I needed to heal and get out of the Army before I could accept this job. He was completely patient.”

It didn’t take long for Hall to know he had made the right hire. Not only was Hartswick “spot-on when it came to the clinical stuff,” he also proved to be a charismatic, inspirational instructor, starting with his story.

“It really brings it home to people,” Hall said. “It’s one thing to see it in textbooks. It’s one thing to see on television. Unfortunately, given the prevalence of IEDs as the weapon of choice in the Middle East, you see the stories.

“But for the students to actually hear how the techniques saved his life, from this vibrant young man who’s excited to be teaching, who has such a passion for the program, I don’t think it’s an experience they could have gotten from someone else.”

The job also has been beneficial to Hartswick, who had been trying to figure out his future months before his tour ended abruptly. He ended up re-enlisting, thinking he had years ahead in the Army, only to find himself suddenly at a loss.

Facing a major transition after five years in uniform, he understood a few truths. He was ending a phase of his life, not a job. He could keep the values instilled in him, but he would have to embrace being a civilian.

Finally, he would need a bridge, a substitute for the sense of purpose he says all warriors crave.

Fortune provided one.

“I still have a sense of purpose,” he said. “I still serve my brothers and sisters.”

His next opportunities will come Aug. 4 in Nesquehoning and Aug. 11 in Morris County, N.J. He’s counting on many more. One day, if all goes as he hopes, he’ll get a letter. It will be an honor, like having a stretch of state Route 45 from Boalsburg to Pine Grove Mills renamed after him — but even better.

Former students will write how the course helped them handle a rough call, that they saved lives, including their own, with the skills they learned. He can see it happening because a SWAT team sent such a note to other instructors.

When it’s his turn, Hartswick will know that his mission endures. As he was halfway across the world, he’ll be part of a team that snatches people from death and brings them home to their families.

“I want them to be successful,” he said. “I want them to all come out alive.”

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