Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has awarded the state's highest military honor for heroism to a Lindenhurst Army National Guard staff sergeant, who while in her pajamas ran to help two teenagers shot late last year outside her previous home in Syracuse.
Staff Sgt. Marlana Watson, a medic during a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan that ended in 2013, was headed to bed Nov. 5 when the crackle of gunfire erupted in the street.
After checking on her young son and telling her sister to call 911, she made her way outside.
"I opened the door and they were, like, 'help me, help me,' " Watson said of the boys, ages 13 and 15, who were lying in a yard across the street.
One of the boys had been hit in the buttocks. Watson had him give her one of his socks, then had an onlooker squeeze it against the wound while she checked the other victim.
The second boy was hit twice -- in the calf and in the inner thigh, near a major artery. Watson became alarmed when the boy complained of feeling cold, a sign that his loss of blood could be severe enough to threaten his life.
The head of the state's National Guard, Major Gen. Patrick Murphy, will present Watson with the state's Medal of Valor at a 10 a.m. ceremony Wednesday at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Farmingdale.
Watson said she had never been the first responder to a shooting, despite having served as a medic in Afghanistan.
She knelt by the second victim and used her hand to compress his thigh wound -- all the while wondering whether the shooter would return to finish off his victims. "When I think about it now, I realize it was so unsafe," Watson said. "I said to myself, 'I make it back from Afghanistan, and then get shot in Syracuse.'"
Watson said that in a harrowing situation "your military training just kicks in. You just do what you're trained to do."
She said she went back inside after police arrived and thought so little of her contribution that she did not report it to her Guard chain of command.
Watson, a Binghamton native, joined the Guard in 2004. She moved to Lindenhurst in March to work as a National Guard recruiter in Farmingdale, as a full-time soldier.
Military leaders only learned of her role in the rescue after witnesses described her to a Syracuse newspaper reporter, who wrote about the shooting.
"Without hesitation, Staff Sgt. Watson placed her own personal safety at risk in order to help those in need," Cuomo said in a news release. "I commend her heroic actions and am proud to see this exemplary New Yorker receive this well-deserved honor."