CAP 1st Lt. Honored For Road Rage Response
By Sheila Pursglove
A case of road rage in Hawaii could have ended in fatalities had it not been for the quick thinking and heroism of Air Force Staff Sgt. Kaohu Detwiler, a Civil Air Patrol first lieutenant and former cadet captain who’s now a Security Forces member with the 169th Air Defense Squadron of the Hawaii Air National Guard.
On Aug. 1, Detwiler was driving east in rush-hour traffic on the H-1 Freeway in Waipahu when he spotted an unusually heavy slowdown in the westbound lanes. Slowing to look at what was happening and seeing a man with blood all over his face, Detwiler pulled into the shoulder lane, donned his police reflective vest and went to help at what he initially thought was an accident scene.
As he stepped over the center lane guardrail, he saw a man with a spade-shaped knife in his hand. He realized he was witnessing a case of road rage resulting in an assault.
According to court documents, the man with the knife — later arrested and charged with attempted murder and assault — had taunted the victims as they drove west, made a gun gesture with his hand and then drove into their car at an exit. When the driver and passenger got out, the man allegedly pepper-sprayed, bit and stabbed the driver and stabbed the passenger.
Detwiler, a seven-year veteran of military law enforcement, approached the alleged attacker, who was still armed with the knife, and shouted at him to stay in place. Instead the man got into his car and sped off, but not before Detwiler noted the vehicle’s license plate number and yelled it out to bystanders to call it in to police.
Detwiler then called 911 and provided information to the operator while applying pressure to the wounds.
A nurse, off-duty police officers and sheriff’s deputies and another military sergeant stopped to help. Along with a U.S. Public Health Service lieutenant and a U.S. Army staff sergeant, Detwiler tended to the most critically injured victim, who had three open abdominal stab wounds and multiple wounds to the back, including a stab wound to the kidney. The man’s intestines were hanging outside a stab wound; Detwiler placed them back on the man’s stomach with the pressure bandage.
“At first I didn’t know what was going on because of all the chaos,” said Detwiler, who learned basic first aid and trauma training in the military. “All I could think about were the two stab wound victims lying in the middle of the freeway.
“If it wasn’t for my upbringing in CAP, the training I received when I was a cadet and the mindset to put others before myself, I believe I would not have done as well as I thought. CAP was a pathway for me before joining the Air Force, and I put all my training to use on this day.”
Detwiler was nominated for the Airman’s Medal by his National Guard squadron duty officer and squadron commander. That honor, awarded to those who show an act of “heroism involving voluntary risk of life,” ranks above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, according to Air Force Instruction 36-2803.
“Without the assistance and heroic actions from Staff Sgt. Detwiler, the individual would surely have died,” Army Staff Sgt. TaiShawn Womack, a witness, wrote in a sworn statement.
Always interested in planes, Detwiler joined the CAP Hawaii Wing’s Wheeler Composite Squadron at age 13 in 2004 after enjoying an air show at Hickam Air Force Base. He became a senior member in 2013.
One of the first cadets in the West Oahu Composite Squadron when it started in 2007, Detwiler remembered the local community welcoming the new unit with open arms.
“We were able to serve the community through different events and soon grew to become one of the largest squadrons on Oahu. Our commander for cadets, CAP Lt. Col. Ed Arias, he guided us the best way possible,” Detwiler said.
“I credit a lot of my success to CAP Lt. Col. Arias, CAP Capt. Richard Hardgrave and to all the other senior members who helped me along the way.”
The squadron also provided his most memorable Civil Air Patrol activity – the 2007 Hawaii Wing Glider Encampment, when he was one of four cadets taking part and got to max out his flight hours.
“CAP was a great pathway for me to take as young kid — not only did CAP teach me how to be a better young man, it grew me into the young adult I am today,” Detwiler said.
“CAP taught me discipline and how to put others before myself,” he added. “I was a wild and rambunctious kid growing up. CAP got me to calm down and to concentrate on what’s at hand.
"And I took away the lessons I learned as a cadet and applied when I was a senior member, passing on knowledge down to the next generation of cadets.”
His CAP training also prepared Detwiler on what to expect when entering the U.S. Air Force, where he later deployed to Manas, Kyrgyzstan, from 2012-2013 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom as a Security Forces member for Air Base Defense; and to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, in 2015 in support of Operation Inherit Resolve as a Security Forces member for Air Base Defense and a Fly Away Security Team member attached to C-130 Hercules aircrews.
“I went to basic training with a clear mindset, and I was open to what the instructors were going to teach us,” he said.
Now on inactive CAP membership status with the Hawaii Wing, Detwiler intends to get back into a squadron soon and is also working toward his private pilot’s certificate through a local flight school. “I love flying, and I plan on passing it down to my children when they become of age to fly,” he said.
The stepfather of three also plans to introduce the children to CAP when they hit their teens.
Detwiler’s supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Charles P. Santos, said Detwiler plays a vital role in the Security Forces Unit at the 169th Air Defense Squadron. “He’s very passionate about what he does, which is probably one of the reasons why he stopped to render aid on the freeway — that’s just the type of person he is,” Santos said.
“Regarding his job-related duties, he is always eager and willing to learn. We’re all very proud of his swift actions. It definitely reflects great credit upon himself, the 169th Air Defense Squadron/Security Forces Unit and the Hawaii Air National Guard.”