LINCOLN, Neb. –
“To any individual serving with or supporting the Nebraska Military Department who has distinguished himself/herself by heroism, in saving the life, limb, or eyesight of a fellow citizen.”
Those were the words read describing the newly authorized Nebraska National Guard Heroism Medal presented during the Nebraska Adjutant General Change of Command Ceremony, July 8, 2023, at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. The first recipient of this new award was Sgt. Brandi Sullivan, of Randolph, Nebraska, for her exceptional heroism on May 18, 2019, while responding to a major accident and rendering roadside aid to include cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Sullivan, a flight medic with Company G, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, provided critical first aid to multiple victims involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident during a thunderstorm along Interstate 80 near Gretna, Nebraska.
According to Capt. Oliver Berglund, who recommended her for the award, Sullivan was driving home from a scheduled drill through a severe thunderstorm which reduced visibility when she witnessed a sedan lose control and crash into a minivan.
“Without regard to her safety, she immediately began using her combat medic training and experience,” Berglund wrote in his nomination. “She grabbed her first aid kit and immediately conducted a scene assessment and patient triage on a busy interstate during a thunderstorm. During the scene size up, she took control of the situation and started giving out instructions to the other Good Samaritans that responded. The most severe patient was the four-month-old infant who required cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Without hesitation, Sergeant Sullivan began roadside CPR in the rain on the infant. A few minutes later, the police and fire department arrived on the scene; however, Sergeant Sullivan didn’t stop rendering aid until the infant was loaded into the ambulance. Good Samaritans and First Responders commended her for both her guidance and rendering aid; she was a crucial part of the initial response.”
Everyone involved in the accident was transported to local area trauma centers. The infant was ultimately pronounced deceased upon arrival to Children’s Hospital.
“Without a question, Sergeant Sullivan’s personal example of selfless service and unhesitating, decisive actions are consistent with the greatest traditions of our uniformed services and played a pivotal role during a fatal accident,” Berglund added.
Sullivan said in the moment she reacted immediately without thinking. After hearing the screams, she said she knew it was up to her to bring calm and take on the responsibility of helping everyone in that situation.
“You have to be able to look past all of the distractors and focus on finding the dire issue at hand and bring calmness in focusing your reaction,” she said. “Reacting and trusting your thinking to not distract you, but to help guide you along the way has always been key to what leaders before me have instilled in my mindset.”
She said while her military training helped with the response, she credited being a Nebraskan as why she instinctively rushed in to help in the first place.
“I think Nebraskans are viewed as being helpful and nice, and in reality I think it stems from a deeper sense of what would I need from someone else if this happened to me. And then doing just that,” she said, recognizing she wasn’t alone in the response. “There were numerous civilians that day who reacted in the same manner, seeing people in need, and reacting in any way possible to help.”
During the July 2023 ceremony, Pillen and Maj. Gen Daryl Bohac, Nebraska’s 33rd adjutant general, presented the Heroism Medal to Sullivan for her selfless and courageous response and attempt to save a life.
“It feels really good just to see the overall recognition,” Sullivan said, appreciative of the new honor and its purpose. “I’m definitely not the first person who has done something like this in the Nebraska National Guard. I think it really shows the importance of how we’re all in this together – it should be human nature to help everyone and to recognize when people look out for their fellow citizens.”
In June 2023, Pillen issued Executive Order 23-12 pursuant to the creation of this new medal to be awarded by the Nebraska National Guard recognizing special acts of heroism – including civilian workers supporting the Nebraska Military Department.
“Many acts of heroism are recognized by our military during periods of active service, for instance, times of war or military engagements where the recipient’s own life was at risk,” Pillen said while signing the executive order. “This award also acknowledges extraordinary acts – those that occur in everyday life and are equally deserving of recognition.”
Among the many guests present for the change of command ceremony were Sullivan’s significant other and many family members to watch her receive the award.
“We actually have a military-based family so I think it was really good for them to be there,” Sullivan said. “I know that they’re pretty proud of being able to be here today for this, especially from Governor Pillen. They really loved it.”