FORT BLISS — In the face of unknown danger and chaos, it is easy to let fear overwhelm you; for one Fort Bliss Soldier, he defied this fear, bolstered by Army training and personal conviction.
Pfc. Glendon Oakley, a native of Killeen and an automated logistical specialist assigned to 504th Composite Supply Company, 142nd Combat Support Sustainment Battalion, 1st Armored Division Sustainment Brigade, reacted heroically during the active shooter tragedy in El Paso Aug. 3.
Oakley gathered several panicked children at the Cielo Vista Mall and brought them to the safety of law enforcement as chaos enveloped the adjacent Walmart, the scene of the tragedy which claimed 22 lives.
The Walmart store is approximately 800 feet from the Cielo Vista Mall, separated by a parking lot, which caused law enforcement officials to evacuate both buildings as the shooter attempted to flee just north of the Walmart store.
“You could hear all of the chaos going around, and that’s when I did what I was trained to do,” said Oakley, “I quickly reacted and I thought to myself if my child were there how I would want someone else to react. I just took action and tried to get as many kids as possible.”
Oakley’s quick and decisive action ensured the safety of the rescued children as law enforcement worked to de-escalate the tense situation.
“I just thought about keeping them as close as I could. A couple of them were jumping out of my hands, but the ones I could keep with me, I made sure that they made it to where they needed to be,” Oakley said. “They were just scared, so I just did what I could do possible.”
Army training has played a vital role in preparing Soldiers, such as Oakley, to respond in a quick and efficient manner in the face of danger, preparing them for any threat.
“Raising my right hand and being in the Army has taught me that I’m serving for the people and I need to protect the people,” Oakley said. “The Army taught me everything I know about being prepared for things like this.”
Oakley credits the Army for the training and experience that it has provided him.
“I understand that what I did was heroic, but I did that because that’s what I was trained to do and what the military has taught me to do, he said. “I’m thankful to be in the military and for what they’ve taught me.”
The selfless trait, which defines Oakley’s character, has been apparent to those around him for years.
“He comes from a great family and he’s not a selfish person, so it does not surprise me that he’s putting others before himself. He fully understands what he’s trained to do,” Bobbie Reeders, principal of Pathways High School in Killeen, where Oakley attended, said.
Oakley’s father is a retired Army sergeant major, his mother a retired Army master sergeant, and his sister a former Army commissioned officer.
“Some things you learn as a child on up and I believe that the selfless acts he showed by saving those children, because as he’s said, ‘I was just thinking about the children’s,’ shows that all through his life he’s been taught that when you help others, you help yourself,” continued Reeders.
It comes as no surprise to those around him that Oakely would demonstrate the courage and bravery needed to act in the face of unknown chaos and fear.
“You can see that this is something that’s intrinsic, not something that was superficial,” Reeders said, when discussing Oakley’s character. “Glendon, I’m proud of you. One day you told me that I would hear of you doing great things and you are a man of your word. Thank you.”
The tragedy weighs heavily on Oakley, whose sympathy for the affected families has defined his attitude in the aftermath of the incident.
“It hurts like I lost part of me, I don’t even know the people that died or the kids that I took with me,” said Oakley. “I send my prayers and my condolences and I’d love to do it in person. I’d love to hug them and give them my comfort, because that’s exactly what they need.”
Oakley’s actions during the active shooter tragedy helped protect and secure vulnerable children through selfless service and courage strengthened by training and opportunity provided by the Army.
“I’m thankful for all of the training that I’ve went through and the noncommissioned officers that have been there and taught me how to shoot and how to zero and how to protect the people who I am supposed to protect,” Oakley said. “That’s exactly what I rose my hand up to do.”