National Guard soldiers rescue trapped residents in Ukraine apartment building fire

Soldiers from the Oklahoma Army National Guard came to the rescue of residents trapped inside a burning apartment building in Lviv, Ukraine on July 16.

The guardsmen of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, known as the Thunderbirds, were in Lviv “during a routine morale, welfare and recreation trip,” according to the Department of Defense. Nearing the end of their personal time, the soldiers noticed smoke coming from a building nearby.

“We were about to head back to base when we saw smoke coming from down the street, so we decided to investigate,” explained Sgt. Matthew Odom, of Norman, Oklahoma, a soldier assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 279th Infantry Regiment, 45th IBCT.

Along with Odom, fellow guardsmen Sgt. Nelson Deese, Spc. Vincent Humerickhouse, Spc. Kellar Jackson, Spc. Aaron Moore and Pfc. Kevin Polk ran into to the burning building before firefighters arrived, evacuating the third floor.

“We kept asking if there was anyone still in the building, and finally we found someone who spoke English who said that there was,” Odom said. “Sgt. Deese and I just gave each other a look; it was like we knew what the other was thinking and we just stormed in.”

“We were knocking on doors and windows trying to get people’s attention; they were definitely not aware of the fire,” said Deese, who is also a volunteer firefighter in Crowder, Oklahoma. “I feel like most soldiers, especially infantrymen, we run to the fight. Not a single hesitation,” he added.

Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 279th Infantry Regiment, 45th IBCT are deployed to Ukraine in support of the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, an international effort to train Ukrainian forces. The U.S. will continue training and advising Ukrainian security forces until 2020, according to U.S. Army Europe.

“I’m proud of the actions these soldiers took to ensure the safety of others,” said Lt. Col. Bruce Lambeth, commander of 1st Battalion.

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