Members of the Oklahoma National Guard in Ukraine earned the gratitude and respect of many civilians there as they went above and beyond the call of duty.
Five soldiers with the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team's (IBCT) 1st Battalion, 279th Regiment, ran into a burning apartment building in L'viv Sunday, helping to evacuate residents from the building's top floor.
The Guard members were in L'viv, a 60-minute drive from the training compound where they live, to sight-see and relax, as many do on Sundays. While walking through the city's historic old town, the men noticed smoke coming from a building nearby.
"So, my first instinct, being infantry, is to run toward the fire," said Sgt. Nelson Deese of Alpha Company.
Deese says, when they got to the building, he noticed no firefighters had arrived yet, and everyone else seemed to just be watching and not doing anything to help.
"Everyone was kind of, like, looking and kept going about their business, like it wasn't a big deal," Deese recalled, in an interview with 45th IBCT Public Affairs staff. "So, I'm like, 'Hey, let's get in there.'"
"Instinctively, we all just ran inside and started helping people out," added Spc. Kellar Jackson.
Jackson and Deese were joined by Spc. Vincent Humerickhouse, Pfc. Kevin Polk, and Spc. Aaron Moore. They dodged people running out and ran straight to the third floor.
"And you could see the fire," Deese stated. "It was just...blazin'!"
In his hometown of Crowder, Oklahoma, in Pittsburg County, Deese is a volunteer firefighter, so he knew they had to move quickly and get people out.
"We just started knocking on doors, banging on windows, trying to get people's attention," Deese explained. "[Because] they were definitely not aware of the fire."
"We could barely breathe, and it was kind of chaotic," Jackson noted. "We had one lady that didn't want to come out, because she didn't want to leave her dogs."
The Oklahoma soldiers don't speak Ukrainian, but Deese says it wasn't hard to get the message across.
"They realized what was going on," Deese said. "So they ran back inside and tried to grab whatever they could, and their other family members."
L'viv firefighters soon showed up and took over, but it was the quick response of the Oklahoma Guard members that truly saved the day.
"I was really worried for the people inside," Deese said. "I wanted to make sure they got out."
"I am proud of what we did," said Jackson. "I'm glad we did that."
The 45th IBCT is scheduled to be in Western Ukraine, carrying out its training mission, through the end of 2017.