By Alexandra Hemmerly-BrownJanuary 12, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 12, 2011) -- During the harrowing events that took place Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., several witnesses to Jared Lee Loughner's alleged shooting rampage intervened, possibly saving more lives.
One of those who reacted quickly was retired Col. William Badger, a 74-year-old resident of Tucson who spent 38 years in the Army.
Badger, an Army pilot whose assignments included being chief of Aviation for the National Guard at the Pentagon, attributed his actions during the shooting to his military training. The retired colonel joined the South Dakota Army National Guard in 1953, and after serving part-time for 20 years, applied for active duty where he continued to serve until 1991.
"I'm proud of my military service and this was a tragic event," Badger said in an interview Wednesday. "I want people to know that it was my military background, my military training that made me do what I did."
Badger, who holds slightly different political views from U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, said he had written to her on several occasions.
"She's been exceptionally good at getting back to me and trying to accomplish what's best for the military," Badger explained.
The retired colonel had never met the congresswoman, so he thought Saturday's event at a nearby Safeway grocery store would be a good opportunity.
Badger said that when he arrived at the Safeway, there wasn't a big crowd, but there were some people sitting in a line of chairs waiting to meet Giffords.
Just as he turned to get into the line, he heard a loud "bang, bang, bang," which he initially thought was the sound of fireworks -- until he saw a man with a gun in his outstretched hand.
"The people in the chairs were falling to the ground, and jumping to the ground trying to get down out of the way, and I did the same thing," Badger said. "I dropped to the ground, and I was a little bit stung, but I didn't realize I'd been hit."
Badger's head had in fact been grazed by a bullet, and because of his blood-thinning medication, he began bleeding steadily. After hearing about an additional 20 shots fired, the gunman stopped, and Badger assumed the assault was over.
Badger began to stand up, but as he did, the shooter walked directly in front of him, apparently reaching for another clip of rounds to inflict more damage.
Just then, another bystander swung at the gunman with a folding chair, giving Badger a chance to grab the assailant's left wrist and hit him between the shoulders. Together Badger and another man about Badger's age took Loughner to the ground, while a woman grabbed Loughner's final clip. The two men pinned the shooter to the pavement, with Badger's hand around the shooter's throat, until authorities arrived.
After Loughner was taken into custody, Badger was taken to a nearby hospital for an immediate MRI, but the three-inch graze didn't penetrate the skull or cause any brain damage.
"I'm the luckiest person in the world, and have been my whole life," Badger said regarding his wound. "Someone told me I better go and buy a lottery ticket, but I told them to still be alive is like winning the lottery."
Although Badger never served during combat, he said what he learned in the Army is still ingrained in him.
"My military training led me to just respond instantly," he said.
Badger said after he retired, he continued to stay physically fit, just as he had while on active duty.
He doesn't think it's anything special that a man of his age was able to help physically take down a 22-year-old on a shooting rampage. In fact, Badger dismisses his own heroics, insisting he didn't even have time to think before acting.
"It would have been entirely different if he had been standing straight up, and I was by myself," Badger said, naming the person who hit Loughner with a chair as the real hero.
And while Badger assures he is relatively unscathed, he is baffled at how the shooter, who was once rejected from military service, gained possession of weapons that are only available for law enforcement.
"You just can't visualize something like this happening," Badger explained.
"Something has to be done so that nothing like this ever happens again," Badger said, noting that he's volunteered to be on a committee to conduct research on stopping events like Saturday's happening. "I want to continue to be involved in this."