Service above self - in action during a robbery

January 27, 2014 

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    See an airman thwart

    a robbery at a New Jersey T.J. Maxx at nando.com/robbery

Service above self. It’s a mantra synonymous with members of the military.

Never was that more true than on Jan. 19 when an active Air Force member in Evesham, N.J., tackled a thief as he tried to escape a T.J. Maxx store with more than $25,000 in high-end watches.

The masked and hooded thief brazenly walked into the store and, using a landscaping brick, smashed a jewelry case and began emptying its contents. Store surveillance video showed shoppers quickly made their way to the back of the store to avoid confrontation. Then from the back of the store, the Air Force member casually approached the jewelry counter. As the robber began to make a hasty escape, the service member impulsively ran and – with a move that would make any NFL football player proud – tackled the thief into a display stand and tried to subdue him. Though the robber would wriggle his way free, he was stripped of his hoodie, mask and the jewelry.

Television and print news outlets in New Jersey covered the young man’s heroics, and by mid-week the video was picked up by national news outlets, such as CBS and Fox News – all deeming the man a hero.

When interviewed, the man – who would identify himself only as a member of the Air Force – said he was waiting on his wife to try on clothes when he heard the thief smashing the glass counter. Claiming his intent was only to get closer to be able to give police a description of the robber, he told The Air Force Times, “As soon as he took off running, it just happened. My intent was not, ‘I’m going to take down this robber.’ He took off, and I just reacted.”

In some news stories, law enforcement officers admonished his impulsivity, saying it was dangerous. Yet, somewhere in the psyche of this airman, his selfless action displayed what being a member of the military means to him – service above self.

“I don’t know, if I could play it over, if I could make the same call,” the airman continued. “I don’t necessarily regret the decision. … If people aren’t to intervene, what’s to stop them (criminals) from doing it at the next place? What’s the deterrent?”

This story especially caught my eye because the airman is my nephew. As I shared the news clips with friends and co-workers, my pride was beaming. But the more I watched the video and reveled in the familial ties, the more this story led me to a broader conclusion.

He didn’t display just the actions of one brave young man; he captured the spirit of our nation’s military. Whether it’s fighting in Afghanistan, helping rebuild a war-torn country, protecting our bases in foreign lands or responding to natural disasters at home and abroad, our military members commit to a life of service above self the moment they make the decision to join their respective branches. They work while we sleep to ensure the safety of a nation, they are behind the scenes but ever-present in the protection of our freedom and they give of themselves to help people of foreign lands, giving them the hope of having a better life – one free of tyranny.

My nephew’s heroics were caught on camera for the world to see, but his actions show more than a man thwarting a robbery – they show the heart of a serviceman. It should make us all proud to know that those who serve America are men and women of distinct honor, courage and selflessness. They all deserve our thanks for their service. Indeed, they are all heroes.

MCT Information Services

This piece appeared in the News Herald of Morganton.

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