Oklahoma Soldiers Rush To Help In OSU Homecoming Tragedy
STILLWATER, Oklahoma - By Sgt. Anthony Jones, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs
STILLWATER, Oklahoma - Oklahoma Army National Guardsmen answered their state's call for help in time of disaster when a car crashed through the crowd watching the Oklahoma State University homecoming parade on October 24.
Guardsmen were some of the first on the scene to help the dozens of injured - quickly on the scene after marching in the parade only minutes before the crash.
Soldiers of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team's 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment and 700th Brigade Support Battalion had just finished marching in the parade when a 25-year-old woman crashed through the crowd near the end of the parade, killing three people and injuring more than 40 others. Later, a 2-year-old boy would die from injuries he received in the incident.
First. Sgt. Brent Pearce, an Edmond, Oklahoma, resident who serves as the senior enlisted Soldier in Company E, 700th BSB, was one of the first Soldiers who heard of the accident.
After finishing the parade, Pearce was organizing the soldiers' trip back to their armory and had stopped to get a cup of coffee from a nearby convenience store when a civilian approached him saying there had been an
accident and they might need the soldiers' assistance.
"I said, 'Hey guys, let's go help,'" Pearce said, mentioning he thought the accident may have been a minor fender-bender. "Then, as I got closer, I could hear people screaming and when I got to the other side [I] could see what had happened, the vehicle had ran through the crowd."
Pearce called to the soldiers to help and ran into the scene. He found a police officer and offered his unit's assistance.
"I remember looking back and telling people 'remember your combat lifesaver and first aid training and just start helping people," Pearce said. "It was mass chaos."
The soldiers filled many roles during the minutes and hours after the accident, Pearce said. Some continued to help with first aid, others helped set up a perimeter around the intersection where the accident happened, while others were helping families reunite with their loved ones and ensuring they knew which hospitals the injured would be transported to.
"There was confusion because there [weren't] enough ambulances, so we started loading people into private vehicles," Pearce said. "I heard over the radio the hospital was overwhelmed. Soldiers started talking with families and bringing people in to [the restricted area to] see their families and letting them know which hospital they would be going to."
To help the soldiers and first responders already at the intersection, the units called for help from those who were still at their armory a few miles away.
One of the soldiers who went to help secure the site was Pvt. Justin Murin, a wheeled vehicle mechanic with Company E who lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, and was attending his first drill with his unit after basic
Murin was waiting to file in-processing paper work with his new unit when a sergeant came in saying he needed volunteers to help at the parade because there was an "incident."
"I joined the Guard because I always wanted to become something bigger than myself," Murin said. "I certainly wasn't expecting something like this."
The group of soldiers Murin was with arrived to the intersection as a med evac helicopter was landing. He and the other soldiers took up positions around the perimeter of the intersection allowing law enforcement and other first responders to help the injured and begin the investigation into why the woman drove into the crowd.
The crash site was only a few blocks away from the university's football stadium and a decision by the university to play the game meant hundreds, if not thousands, of people would be passing by the site.
Murin said he has more faith in his training and his fellow soldiers after being at the scene.
"Being there reassured me I've done the right thing," Murin said, referring to his purpose for enlisting. "With my training, I can be an asset. I can help people."
Another soldier who helped secure the area had just gotten back to the armory from marching in the parade when word arrived about the wreck.
Spc. Kimberly York, of Guthrie, Oklahoma, said when she arrived at the intersection there were still casualties on the ground, adding the atmosphere was terrible and sad.
"It was stressful but I knew how to handle it," York said. "People could see everything that had happened. They were upset and I had to calm them down."
York said she believes people felt the National Guard presence made a difference.
"I know a lot of people kept coming up to me and thanking me, and everyone around us, for being there and helping. I'm proud of everyone who
The following day, 45 soldiers were presented with awards for their heroic actions in Stillwater. Twenty two Army Achievement Medals and 23 Army Commendation Medals were presented to the Soldiers by Lt. Col. Colby Wyatt, commander, 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment, and Command Sgt. Maj. Danny Meeks, command sergeant major of the 45th IBCT.
Meeks told the Soldiers they never know what will happen when they put their uniforms on, but he had faith they would always do the right thing. He told them the people of Stillwater and Oklahoma are proud of them, and are
thankful for their service in times of crisis.
"They may not know your individual names or faces but they know your professionalism," Meeks said.
One of the people who commended the soldiers was a Stillwater police sergeant.
"I remember her telling me she's been doing this for 21 years and has never seen anything like this," Pearce said. "But she said, without the Oklahoma National Guard being here they wouldn't have been able to do this."
Pearce added it was amazing to see the amount of people who stopped to thank the soldiers for helping.
"Even as we were loading the bus to leave, people were thanking us," Pearce said. "They know the Guard is always going to be there."