Green Beret Physician Assistant receives Soldiers Medal for saving his mentor’s life

By: Michael Bottoms - USSOCOM Office of Communications - 1/13/2021

  • Gen. Richard D. Clarke, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, presents Lt. Col. Larry Wyatt, USSOCOM clinic director, with a Soldier’s Medal at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Dec. 22, 2020. He was awarded the medal for delivering lifesaving an accident April 7, 2019, despite being injured himself. (U.S. Air Force photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Barry Loo)

A beautiful spring day. A bike ride. Then a violent crash.

April 7, 2019 was a day that would change the lives of Army Lt. Col. Larry Wyatt, U.S. Special Operations Command’s Physician Assistant and clinic director, and his mentor, retired Army Col. Thomas Wells, a Princeton University trained trauma surgeon and former Army Ranger, forever.

Wyatt had to give up running for physical reasons so Wells, an avid biker, suggested he take up cycling. Out on only his second bike ride with Wells on the Pinellas bike trail near Tampa, Florida while crossing a bridge they saw two motorcycles come racing toward them.

“We were at mile marker 25 on the trail coming on the bridge and I could see a motorcycle front end coming up and the trail motorcycle pulled around to pass and they approached us laterally and there was nowhere to go because of the chain link fence around the bridge,” said Wyatt.

The motorcycles struck the pair at more than an estimated 50 miles per hour knocking them unconscious. Wyatt was dragged approximately 30 yards after the collision.

“I came to maybe 15 to 20 seconds after impact, and all I could hear was my dad’s voice in my head,” Wyatt recalled. “He’s an old mountain man from the back woods of Oregon, and he raised my brothers and I rough, but fair and loving. I could just hear him saying ‘You will face rough times in your life. You always get up on your own two feet by yourself. So, get up.'”

Wyatt was badly hurt so rising to his feet was no easy task. He had serious head injuries to include a broken nose, fractured teeth, and split his eyebrow. Even worse, his left forearm was badly mangled; blood gushed from a hole showing the bone. Wyatt got to his feet asked one of the motorcyclists for his belt and tied a tourniquet around his arm to stop the bleeding. Once he secured the tourniquet, he attended to the two motorcyclists and advised them to sit down.  Then he walked to where Wells laid entangled with the second motorcycle.

“I could hear Doc moaning. I was still trying to clear my head because I’m still foggy. I see Doc laying on the motorcycle. I had one of the riders help me move Doc away from the motorcycle and then began to treat him,” Wyatt said.

Wells’ injuries appeared to be even more substantial. Wyatt hearkened back to his days as a Special Forces medical sergeant and began to do a hands-on assessment of all of Wells injuries and stabilized him.

“I performed what is called crepitus grimace exam on Doc feeling for grinding of the broken bones. Orthopedics is not the gentle part of medicine and he was in a lot of pain,” said Wyatt.

As he worked on Wells the makeshift tourniquet was not working well and his blood dripped on his friend whom he considers to be like an older brother. “I kept apologizing, ‘I’m sorry for bleeding on you, Doc,'” Wyatt recalled. “And his response was, ‘just do what you got to do.'”

He borrowed the phone of one of the motorcyclists and communicated the list of injuries to the 911 dispatch. Emergency services arrived and had to walk up and around because they were still on the bridge. “Doc kept saying, ‘don’t go anywhere,'” Wyatt said. “And I said, ‘I’m not going anywhere, brother, I’m right here with you.'”

Wyatt has had more than a year-and -a-half recovery going through multiple surgeries to repair his injuries. Wells had nearly the same arduous recovery journey. Both men still need an additional surgery.

Army Gen. Richard D. Clarke, USSOCOM commander, presented Wyatt with a Soldier’s Medal Dec. 22, 2020, at the headquarters on MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

“Wyatt’s personal example of selfless service, superb medical knowledge, and unhesitating decisive action are consistent with the greatest traditions of our uniformed services and played a pivotal role in saving the lives of two individuals, including himself,” the citation reads.

Wyatt did take away one lesson from the accident promising himself he would carry a tourniquet with him everywhere he goes. “In the military we always do an after-action review replaying what could we have done better.” Wyatt said. “I wish I had a real tourniquet because I was bleeding everywhere, and I was just worried about my brother.”

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