Air Force Commendation Medal For Heroism At A Cost
by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Paige Yenke
“We all carry a story. A lot of people think it’s one big story,
but you have so many different short ones in your life and not all
of them are good,” said Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Willard.
a member of the 926th Security Forces Squadron, entered a different
chapter of his own on the evening of October 1, 2017. The events of
that night led to a civilian career change, as well an Air Force
Commendation Medal for heroism, but not without psychological
June 7, 2020 - U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Willard, 926 Security Forces Squadron, recently received the Air Force Commendation Medal for heroism for his actions during the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting. As the third anniversary approaches, Willard explains how he's dealt with the mental health aspect of that night since then. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Paige Yenke)
Willard was stopped at a traffic light on his way to the
Tropicana Las Vegas for his civilian shift as a bellman and valet,
when he began hearing what he thought were pops of fireworks.
After a moment of confusion, he quickly realized the severity of
the situation when a flood of people from the Route 91 Harvest
Festival started scattering onto Las Vegas Boulevard. He immediately
put his car in park and jumped out to see how he could help.br>
It wasn’t long before Willard was approached by a group
of four strangers, one of them wounded.
“The group of four
approached the car and said ‘we got to get out of here, she’s
injured, something is wrong with her neck,’ ” Willard said. “At this
point, nobody knew it was gunfire. We just knew everybody was
getting hurt at once. Nobody knew how.”
Willard helped slow
the bleeding and transferred the injured woman to an ambulance they
had spotted down the road. He then proceeded towards his original
destination, thinking that may have been the extent of everything.
He soon realized this was not the case as more people fled.
Willard parked his car at the Tropicana and ran towards the festival
grounds with no hesitation.
“I headed that way against the
sea that's coming at me and I'm just figuring, ‘well, maybe I can do
something,’ ” Willard said.
That night a coworker joined
Willard, along with two festival-goers, working through the night to
pull injured civilians to safety.
The group hand-carried
dozens of victims to the Tropicana and performed life-saving first
aid while medical personnel set up a staging area to pick up and
transport the wounded.
Seeing people band together is the
only memory that Willard is thankful to take away from that night.
However, some of the negative sights of survival instincts he
witnessed have caused him to have trouble depending on others during
times of stress.
“I think a week after Route 91 I was like,
‘Okay, it's time to talk to somebody.’ For me, it wasn't hard, it
was very easy to be able to make a call,” he said.
reached out to a chaplain he knew on base immediately for
counseling, which he said helped greatly, along with the mentorship
and support of his supervisor and wingmen in his unit.
Willard was fortunate to grow up with strong role models, where
asking for help was encouraged. His father, a purple heart recipient
who was in the Navy for 26 years, still receives counseling to this
“He showed me that it's okay to have somebody,” Willard
said. “Who knows where he’d be if he didn't get the help he needed.”
As a security forces member, Willard is regularly exposed to
others in their times of need and believes people should give the
smaller chapters of their lives more attention.
“I think they
wait for that traumatic event before they're like, I should fix all
these problems I had before,” he said. “I think people need to reach
out more through their lives and get the help they need.”
the third anniversary of the Harvest Festival shooting nears,
Willard recently received the Air Force Commendation Medal for
heroism, submitted by his squadron.
“How they wrote that
package was beautiful, I'm very humble and very accepting of it,” he
Now Willard is one of the leads of an Emergency
Response Team for the MGM Resorts International, a position he was
recruited for because of his Route 91 actions.
night I had an immediate feeling that I can do more,” he said. “If
there's something I can do where maybe I can make people feel at
ease or I can make people feel a little more secure, I'm going to do
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