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Meet the hero soldier who saved children's lives during the El Paso Walmart shooting
At first, Army Pfc. Glendon Oakley Jr. was completely unaware of the chaos unfolding just around the corner. Then he pulled his gun.
A 22-year-old Army automated logistics specialist assigned to the 504th Composite Supply Company, 142nd Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, 1st Armored Division Sustainment Brigade at Fort Bliss, Texas, Oakley had been shopping at a sporting goods store inside the Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso when a young child burst into the store shouting about an active shooter at the nearby Walmart.
"The guy at the register and I sort of looked at each other," Oakley told Task & Purpose in a phone interview on Saturday. "He's a little kid ... are you going to believe him?"
The threat was very real. At least 20 people were killed and dozens more wounded when a gunman opened fire at the Walmart, sending terrified bystanders fleeing through the neighboring mall.
When Oakley exited the store minutes later and headed to the neighboring Footlocker, he finally heard the sound of gunfire echoing across the mall. He immediately pulled the Glock 9mm he occaisionally carries under Texas's concealed carry laws. While he had just returned from an incident-free deployment to Kuwait, this was not his first firefight.
"That's what you do," he told Task & Purpose. "You pull your gun, you find cover, and you figure out what to do next."
Glendon Oakley Jr. (Courtesy photo)
Oakley was born into an Army family. His father, Glendon Oakley Sr., served for 31 years before retiring in 2011 at the rank of sergeant major; his mother, Wendolyn D. Oakley, retired as a master sergeant in 2001 after two decades; and his older sister, Glenda Oakley, is a retired captain.
But Oakley didn't take a direct path to the Army. Growing up in Killeen, Texas while his father was stationed at Fort Hood, he described his formative childhood years as "a little rough."
"I went to jail a few times, for weed charges, for fighting, just getting caught up in the wrong stuff," he told Task & Purpose. "I've been in pointless shootouts at a young age ... Killeen is a lot of pointless shootouts."
Oakley eventually moved to Macon, Georgia, where he met an Army recruiter who, over the span of several years, helped him put together the appropriate waivers to allow him to actually enlist.
"I had to get an ASVAB waiver, I had to get a tattoo waiver, everything ... even though my parents were in the Army, nobody would give me the time of day," he said. "There was one recruiter who didn't give up on me. For two years, he didn't give up."
Oakley finally went off to basic training in September 2017, plowing through Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training before he graduated around March 2018. A few months afterwards, he was deployed to Kuwait with the 504th.
His stay in Kuwait was "fine," Oakley said, although he felt he missed out on actually seeing combat.
"I wanted to go to Iraq so bad," he said. "I felt like it's in my blood."
Glendon Oakley Jr. returns home from his deployment to Kuwait in March 2019.(Courtesy photo)
Oakley had been home from Kuwait for just about four months when he found himself brandishing his Glock stuck in the Cielo Vista Mall Footlocker. A handful of employees had initially brought down the store's metal security gate, but they had decided to make a run for the mall exits. Oakley followed, an impromptu rear guard for the group.
The group quickly stumbled upon a group of a dozen children clustered in one of the mall's open play areas, screaming for their parents. Oakley says he tried to get fleeing bystanders to help, but none would stop.
"I didn't even think. I just grabbed as many kids as I could and ran five stores down to the exit," he said. "We got there and ran into a whole batch of police pointing their guns at us. I wasn't focused on myself, and I wasn't focused on my surroundings ... I was just focused on those kids."
In an interview with local television station KTSM outside the Cielo Vista Mall, Oakley was clearly shaken, the adrenaline pumping through his system. And when reached by Task & Purpose on Saturday, he said said that, despite his training, he was "scared for my life."
"I heard four kids died," he said, his voice softening. "I wish I could have gotten more kids out of there. I wish those guys who ran would have stayed ... I just think, what if that was my child? How would I want some other man to react?"
A pause: "I wish they had some sense of service."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that Glenda Oakley retired as a first lieutenant. She retired as a captain.(8/4/2019; 12:29 am)
A Marine grunt stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina is being considered for an award after he saved the lives of three people earlier this month from a fiery car crash.
Cpl. Scott McDonell, an infantry assaultman with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, was driving down Market Street in Wilmington in the early morning hours of Jan. 11 when he saw a car on fire after it had crashed into a tree. Inside were three victims aged 17, 20, and 20.
"It was a pretty mangled wreck," McDonell told ABC 15. "The passenger was hanging out of the window."
‘I made promises to the people that I lost’— How the Iraq war forged a Navy SEAL’s path to Harvard Medical School and NASA
Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.
However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:
New Vietnam War movie 'The Last Full Measure' takes some well-deserved shots at the military’s award process
Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.
With ISIS trying to reorganize itself into an insurgency, most attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq are being carried out by Shiite militias, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.
"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.