PORT HUENEME, Calif. –
Army Reserve Sgt. James Lawson never imagined a country concert would end with him not only fighting for his life but also saving the life of someone else. Surrounded by the members of his unit on the Pacific coast, the watercraft operator from the 481st Transportation Company (Heavy Boat), was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for his actions on that fateful night nearly two years ago.
“All of the training went to use that night,” Lawson said. “I had the mentality of no man left behind. Having the training and having that benefit to react quickly, it could have been life or death in that situation. Being in the Army Reserve may have saved my life that day.”
On October 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on concertgoers from an elevated casino window overlooking the packed outdoor concert area hosting the Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nev. As one, the entire crowd entered a desperate panic, all intent on escaping the flurry of bullets raining down upon them. In the middle of the chaos, Lawson immediately went back to the basics.
“As I was running, all I could think of was ‘I’m up, he sees me, I’m down,” said Lawson, referring to his Army Movement Technique training as he leveraged nearby obstacles for cover. “We were there to have fun and weren’t expecting any enemy fire so it was all reaction at that point.”
As he continued to navigate the stampede, Lawson managed to escape the concert area with his fiancée to a parking lot where he noticed a large group gathered around a pickup truck. As he approached, he noticed a large pool of blood growing at the base of the tailgate, and a concertgoer struggling unsuccessfully to apply a tourniquet to a profusely bleeding gunshot wound in a man’s calf. Lawson immediately set to work, applying a makeshift tourniquet with the man’s belt and stopping the bleeding until he could be transported to a hospital.
The man he saved, Tom McIntosh, described Lawson as calm under pressure and sure of his abilities. “My wife was screaming, which was starting to make me panic a little, but James stayed calm and kept a dialogue going with me to keep me calm as well,” McIntosh said. “I started to panic and I kept trying to sit up to see how bad my leg was, but James kept distracting me and was able to calm me down again.”
The Army Reserve focuses on a sustained training regimen for all Soldiers to ensure both combat lethality and a constant state of preparedness for the unexpected. As part of this training, many Soldiers take the Combat Lifesaver Course (CLS), which is an immersive and high stress scenario based instruction that emphasizes quick action. The course empowers Soldiers to provide fellow warriors with the necessary care needed to help them survive until trained medical personnel can take over.
In a ceremony surrounded by his fellow Soldiers, U.S. Army Capt. Schuyler Wessels awarded the Army Commendation Medal to Lawson and commented on his heroism.
“Sgt. Lawson’s actions set the bar for how Soldiers should act on and off duty,” he said. “He is an example of why keeping on top of CLS training is important, and he is an example of what we all strive to be like in the military.”
Sgt. Lawson has received extensive training over his 12 years in the U.S. Army Reserve, including two deployments to Kuwait as a watercraft operator transporting personnel and equipment throughout the Persian Gulf. His most recent tour had concluded only days before the shooting. He took military leave to attend the concert with his fiancée.
The Chief of the Army Reserve and Commanding General, United States Army Reserve Command, Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey, became aware of Lawson’s efforts during the awards process and wrote glowingly of his actions. “Superb work under extraordinary pressure and stress,” Luckey commented. “Everything we honor as Soldiers.”
McIntosh fully recovered and got to thank Lawson personally in the days following the incident when the Today show brought the two men together for a surprise reunion. Since then, McIntosh has gotten to know Lawson and has grown to understand the nature of his character.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would have died in that alley if he hadn’t stopped to help me,” McIntosh said. “It takes a special person to willingly inject themselves into a situation like that. Now that I’ve gotten to know James, I know that’s just the kind of guy that he is.”