I woke up this morning to news of the worst mass shooting event in U.S. history. A gunman positioned on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas had opened fire on an outdoor country music festival below, killing at least 58 people and injuring more than 500 as thousands fled.
SWAT teams would use explosives to enter the hotel room where the suspect was inside. The gunman died at the scene and was identified by Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo as Stephen Paddock, 64.
In time, we will likely learn of the shooter’s motives. We’ll also uncover the points at which his act of depravity might have been terminated in the planning stages.
However, I don’t really want to focus on the villain. What trauma sometimes does is bring out the heroes among us and I’d like to direct your attention to one such hero.
As I watched the news, I couldn’t help replaying one person’s remarks in my head. I don’t know his name, occupation, place of origin, or politics. In fact, none of that is important. What I do know is the powerful and genuine response he gave to a reporter who interviewed him following the event.
I quickly worked to transcribe his exact words, for a very important reason. I recognized in him the language that combat veterans typically use to describe what transpired during their time in service.
YOUNG MAN: “I was here enjoying the concert just like every other fellow American here and you know uh, things happen brother. You know, uh this, what goes on here, isn’t American. That’s not what we’re about. And this is not OK. Other people run, that’s OK, that’s on them. I’m here for everybody else.”
REPORTER: “How many people did you help?”
YOUNG MAN: [pauses to reflect]. “Seven.”
REPORTER: “How many people did you see down?”
YOUNG MAN: “How many people did I see down? Probably close to twenty.”
REPORTER: “In various, obviously, conditions?”
YOUNG MAN: “Look man, I’m not wearing any clothes up here. Everyone I thought, you know, has passed on, they have an article of my clothing covering their eyes, covering part of their body. Everyone who I saw breathing, I helped man.”
While this young man may or may not have served in the military, today he, and thousands of others at that concert, experienced a form of combat.
As the killer opened fire from an extraordinarily advantageous position, every potential victim was equal in that they were merely targets of opportunity for an individual bent on inflicting lethal injuries. Each person reacted differently, but all who survived will never be the same. Neither will the families of those who have perished.
As veterans, we sign a contract knowing that someone, somewhere, at some point may try to kill us. We are armed and trained to defend ourselves for that very eventuality.
Last night, despite the many concert-goers who might have had such training, it mattered little in that the threat could not be terminated from where they were. That effort required a SWAT team to race toward the threat, placing their lives in danger, in the hope that they could stop the bloodshed.
Even while being fired on themselves, however, initial reports indicate that, like the young man interviewed above, so many civilians tended to the wounded, potentially exposing themselves to more gunfire. These are the everyday heroes that we often don’t have a chance to recognize. If they served in uniform, they would have received medals, while fellow Americans referred to them as “combat veterans.”
Today, I think it is appropriate to recognize them all as combat veterans.
David Firester, Lima Charlie News
David Firester is the founder and CEO of TRAC Intelligence, LLC. He is also a combat veteran, who held three Military Occupational Specialties in the U.S. Army and has served in a variety of domestic law enforcement roles. He holds advanced degrees in political science and serves as an adjunct instructor at Baruch College in New York City.
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