Information Technician 2nd Class Thomas James and Army veteran Rich Fierro both confronted an assailant who began firing a high-powered rifle at an LGBTQ nightclub, Club Q, on Nov. 19, 2022, according to Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez.
James had grabbed the barrel of the weapon and restrained the gunman until the police arrived and took the assailant into custody, a Navy press release said.
He suffered a gunshot wound in his abdomen and burned his hands as a result of his actions. Still, he offered his seat in an ambulance to another injured person.
“I simply wanted to save the family I found,” James, originally from West Virginia, said in a statement in November 2022. “If I had my way, I would shield everyone I could from the nonsensical acts of hate in the world, but I am only one person.”
Five people were killed and another 18 were injured in the shooting.
Rear Adm. Scott Robertson, director of Plans, Policy and Strategy for North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, presented the award to James on Thursday at Peterson Space Forces Base in Colorado.
Robertson said ahead of the ceremony he asked James, who is assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency, why he chose to act the way he did.
“He said, ‘I wanted to buy time for my friends. I wanted to protect my community,’” Robertson said at the ceremony, according to the Navy press release.
Robertson also said James’ actions caused him to reflect on how he himself would have responded if put in the same situation.
“I myself can only hope that I would channel the courage in our Navy core values like he did,” Robertson said at the ceremony. “But, we don’t have to wait for crisis to apply core values. We can and should apply them every day. That’s what I am taking away from the lessons you taught us all.”
The Navy and Marine Corps Medal is the highest noncombat award for heroism and typically is awarded to those who put their own life in jeopardy.