OK National Guard members rescue residents from burning apartment building in Ukraine

An apartment building on fire in L'viv, Ukraine on 16 July. Soldiers with the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, deployed to Ukraine in support of the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, rushed into the burning building and evacuated the third floor before local firefighters arrived on scene.
Sgt. Nelson Deese / Spc. Vincent Humerickhouse / Pfc. Kevin Polk / Spc. Aaron Moore

LVIV, Ukraine — During a routine morale, welfare and recreation trip, deployed citizen-soldiers of 1st Battalion, 279th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team found themselves in a dangerous situation that put their military and civilian training to good use.

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

The smoke came from an apartment building that had caught fire on Sunday.

Odom, along with fellow Thunderbirds Sgt. Nelson Deese, Spc. Vincent Humerickhouse, Spc. Kellar Jackson, Spc. Aaron Moore and Pfc. Kevin Polk, rushed into the burning building and evacuated the third floor before local firefighters arrived.

“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.”

“Instinctively, we all just ran inside and started getting people out,” said Jackson, a native of Watonga, Oklahoma. “There was a lot of smoke. It was chaotic and intense.”

According to Jackson, the language barrier made the situation even more difficult.

Deese, who serves as a volunteer firefighter in his community of Crowder, Oklahoma, said his training as a firefighter and infantryman just kicked in.

“We were knocking on doors and windows trying to get people’s attention,” Deese said. “They were definitely not aware of the fire.”

Once firefighters arrived on scene, Deese made sure his fellow soldiers were safely outside the burning building before he pitched in to help the firefighters, unrolling their hose and helping them move their equipment upstairs.

“I feel like most soldiers, especially infantrymen, we run to the fight,” Deese said. “Not a single hesitation.”

Soldiers with the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 279th are deployed to Ukraine in support of the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, an international coalition dedicated to building the training capacity of the Ukrainian army.

“I’m proud of the actions these soldiers took to ensure the safety of others,” said Lt. Col. Bruce Lambeth, commander of the 279th. “They are true examples of Oklahomans upholding the Oklahoma standard; in this case, looking after their global neighbors while serving their state and country abroad here in Ukraine.”