OKINAWA, JAPAN --
CAMP KINSER, Okinawa, Japan – The first thing he noticed was the bike, lying there out of place on the side of the road.
Driving down the overpass in his Toyota Hybrid, Joe Ornauer slowed to a halt and rolled down his window.
“What are you doing man?” Ornauer asked of the elderly Okinawan man standing on the edge of the route 58 bypass bridge, gazing down at the asphalt 90 feet below.
So far, it had been a routine morning for Ornauer, a resident contractor who supports 3d Marine Logistics Group’s Tactical Readiness and Training section as an instructor for the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer, as he drove to Camp Kinser for work after finishing his typical morning workout at the Camp Foster gymnasium.
“All of a sudden I notice up ahead there’s a man leaned against the railing looking down. He looked distressed and I knew I had to do something, and fast,” said Ornauer.
Drawing on his years of experience in the U.S. Army as a medic, and as a paramedic with the New York City Fire Department, Ornauer calmly leapt into action. He parked his car, rolled down his window, and started speaking to the man. The man told Ornauer he was going to jump, to which Ornauer had a simple reply: “No, you’re not.”
With traffic backed up behind him, Ornauer got out of his vehicle and slowly approached the man, speaking to him the entire time.
“Once he came away from the ledge, I grabbed him and sat him down there on the sidewalk and we just talked. As soon as I had him back from the ledge, I called the Japanese police and explained the situation to them,” Ornauer said.
Calmly talking the man away from the ledge was a key first step before making any physical contact, according to Ornauer, who says it is not uncommon for distraught individuals to pull a bystander dangerously toward themselves.
In addition to Ornauer’s service as a first responder both in the military and civilian world, which helped him keep his cool as his muscle memory kicked in and he fell back on his training, he had another thing on his side for this mission: fluency in Japanese.
“My mother is Japanese and I grew up in Japan, so being able to speak with him in his own language definitely helped,” explained Ornauer.
Ornauer continued to sit and speak with the man until local authorities showed up to take over. At this point, Ornauer departed the scene for work as usual.
Ornauer says that while his training and language skills came in handy, he’s confident any U.S. service members would do the same, and has advice for anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation.
“Even if you don’t speak the language, remain calm and still try to talk to them. The biggest thing is to try and get their mind off of what they are about to do, to change the subject and keep them engaged. That alone could be enough to make the difference,” Ornauer said.
While Ornauer does not know the man and has no way of contacting him, he did have a message for him.
“I hope he’s okay. Wherever he is out there, I just hope everything works out for him.”