WASHINGTON – On a chilly November night in Colorado Springs, retired Army Maj. Richard Fierro heard a familiar popping noise.
Fierro and his wife, Jessica, and his adult daughter, Kassy, planned to attend a drag performance by Kassy’s best friend that night at Club Q on Nov. 19, 2022.
He had heard the sound before on patrols during deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Smelling gun powder, he looked over his shoulder and saw a man wearing what resembled Marine Corps fatigues and a bullet proof vest. Fierro saw the gun’s muzzle flash as the man opened fire, unleashing a hail of bullets towards the bar area.
The ex-artillery officer’s instincts kicked in. Fierro lunged toward the shooter as bullets from an AR-15 rifle whirred above him — years of Army training compelled him to act.
“I didn't think about if anybody was hurt, I just went to the action,” said Fierro, a 15-year Army veteran. “That's what we're trained to do as officers: manage chaos and put down a threat … and it carries on for the rest of my life, and it'll never go away.”
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas James, another club patron, grappled with the shooter and managed to push the masked man into the patio, but not before the shooter opened fire on the dance floor.
Fierro then leapt upon the man, successfully knocking away the rifle. Fierro said the shooter carried a rifle, fragmentary grenade, a pistol and about 300 rounds of ammunition. For about six minutes, Fierro and James struggled with the shooter before other civilians assisted them in subduing him. Fierro hit the shooter repeatedly using the assailant's own handgun.
Fierro’s actions eventually helped neutralize the masked shooter, Anderson Lee Aldrich, but not before Aldrich killed five people in the nightclub and injured another 25. Kassy’s boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance, suffered gunshot wounds and did not survive.
Still, Fierro prevented what likely would have been more lives lost. For his bravery, Fierro received the 2023 Single Act of Heroism award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society during a ceremony in Pentagon City on March 25.
After authorities had the shooter in custody, Fierro then tended to the wounded. Fierro’s friend, Joanne Law, suffered injuries to her arms, legs and chest during the attack. Fierro helped first responders apply tourniquets to Law and the other injured.
“I was smoked,” Fierro said. “It was six minutes of hell. I’m an old, fat vet now. So I’m not in the best shape and I was trying to kill this guy.”
Fierro said the unique training offered by the Army helped him prevent the accused shooter from taking more lives on Nov. 19.
Fierro graduated from San Diego State University’s ROTC program in 1999 earning his commission into the Army the same year. Both Fierro’s father and brother served in field artillery.
The California native credits the Army with giving him with leadership training and life-saving skills that remain with him today. Fierro currently teaches mission command as a defense contractor at Fort Carson.
“The Army trains you the best they can to be under stress in every environment that you’re in so that you can perform under stress,” Fiero said. “[When] you feel the first round in your life going over your head and [realize] that somebody’s trying to kill you, that changes how your response goes.”
Fierro grew up in diverse San Diego but didn’t truly experience other cultures and different walks of life until he commissioned into the Army. During his career, Fierro participated in events celebrating other cultures including Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month. He also promotes diversity at his Colorado brewery, Atrevida Beer Co., which bears the slogan “Diversity on Tap.”
“[The Army] matures you immediately and you become more understanding of different societies and people’s cultures,” he said. “Everything gets blended together … and it allowed me to become a person that reaches out across everything.”
The Army also taught him life lessons and how to react in life-threatening situations.
Fiero recalled one instance during a 2011 deployment to Iraq, when he and his platoon drove by 10 improvised explosive devices that had reportedly been planted on the road. One of the IEDs went off and exploded one of the vehicles in his convoy.
Driven by emotion, Fiero dismounted and called upon two Soldiers to investigate the IEDs with him along the road. He said he soon realized the situation had become too dangerous for three Soldiers and waited for another platoon to arrive and clear the area.
“I didn’t even think about anything else,” he said. “I was just trying to stop the person that was trying to harm us. And that same kind of mentality happened in [Club Q].”
Fierro said when he has the opportunity to speak to young Soldiers, he tells them the value of serving in the armed forces.
“The Army teaches everyone leadership values, so those values are common across everything,” he said. “Regardless of where you came from or who you are, those values are instilled in you. You become brothers and sisters, and that’s for life. I still have Soldiers that were in my command that I still talk to, to this day.”