'That’s what I was trained to do,' says soldier who helped kids during Texas shooting
By STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 5, 2019
A Fort Bliss soldier who helped children to safety at a Texas mall after a gunman opened fire at a nearby Walmart said he was just doing what he’d been trained to do.
Pfc. Glendon Oakley, of Killeen, Texas, has been hailed in the media as a hero, but in a tearful interview on Sunday he called for the focus to be on the families who lost loved ones in the shooting on Saturday near El Paso’s Cielo Vista Mall. Twenty people died and dozens were injured.
“I’m looked at as a hero for it, but that wasn’t the reason for me,” the 22-year-old 1st Armored Division soldier told reporters, before he was overcome with emotion. “The spotlight should not be on me.”
A day earlier, in an interview with El Paso’s KTSM 9 News that aired on CNN and other national outlets, Oakley described how, as he was walking to Foot Locker in the mall, he heard the sound of gunfire. He drew his handgun, which he said he’s licensed to carry, and took cover inside the shoe store where employees closed the security gate.
When a group of people in the Foot Locker lifted the gate and made a dash to the mall’s exit, he went with them, he said, and that’s when he saw a “whole bunch of kids” running around without their parents. He helped as many as he could carry, taking them outside the mall, where police were located.
“I did that because that’s what I was trained to do,” he told reporters on Sunday. “That is what the military has taught me to do and that’s why I’m thankful to be in the military.”
It’s also what he would want someone to do if he was a father who was separated from his children in a situation like that, he said. He also thanked his noncommissioned officers and for his training and for instilling in him the duty to protect people. “That’s exactly what I rose my hand up for” when he enlisted, Oakley said.
He also offered advice to others in a similar situation: “Don’t be scared to put others before yourself.”
Oakley’s father, mother and older sister all served in the Army, reported the website Task & Purpose, which interviewed him. His father retired as a sergeant major after 31 years in 2011; his mother retired after 20 years as a master sergeant about a decade earlier.
An automated logistics specialist assigned to the 504th Composite Supply Company, 142nd Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, 1st Armored Division Sustainment Brigade, Oakley joined the Army in 2017 and deployed to Kuwait the following year, returning to Texas earlier this year, the website reported.
Other servicemembers from nearby Fort Bliss also assisted in the aftermath of the event. Austin Johnson, an Army medic, volunteered to help at the shopping center and later at a school serving as a reunification center, The Associated Press reported.
The shooting over the weekend was the worst experience of his life, Oakley told reporters on Sunday, declining to go into detail about the event again and saying some of his earlier statements to the media were being twisted. He didn’t get any sleep the night before and wanted to stop having flashbacks to the event, he said.
“I don’t want to think about what happened because it was tragic,” he said. “I just want to forget about it all.”