VICENZA, Italy (March 2, 2012) -- A Soldier stationed at Vicenza, Italy, received the Soldier's Medal today for his actions on May 31, 2011, when he took an armed bank robber down after a heist in Sarasota, Fla.
21st Theater Sustainment Command Commanding General Brig. Gen. Aundre Piggee presented the peacetime award for heroism to Staff Sgt. Eddie Peoples in front of members of his unit and community at the Caserma Ederle Post Theater.
A movement control specialist with the 386th Movement Control Battalion, 21st Theater Sustainment Command-Italy, since April 2010, Peoples used his vehicle to block the getaway of the bank robber's car, got out and disarmed him, pinning him to the ground until law enforcement arrived on the scene.
The 11-year veteran is a native of Bradenton, Fla., and was in the States on leave assisting his ailing father in May last year when he made an afternoon stop at a local bank, accompanied by two of his young sons. He was waiting in the lobby when a gunman entered and announced a robbery. The bank, occupied by about 40 bank employees and customers, fell silent. Silent except for the sound of two small boys giggling.
Peoples watched as the robber brandished his weapon, noticing the sound of children, pointing it at him, bank employees and customers repeatedly.
"He was terrorizing the bank and I knew I had to do something," Peoples said. "He was just a domestic terrorist, spreading terror inside that bank with threat to life and limb. If I was in Iraq, I would take action. This was no different."
The father of four positioned himself between the gunman and his two children and quickly made a place of concealment for his boys with lobby furniture.
As soon as the robber exited the building with an undetermined amount of cash, the veteran of four deployments to Iraq and Kuwait determined to follow him.
Telling the story to those assembled at the ceremony, General Piggee said, "We all wonder how we would react if placed in that situation. Here's what our hero had to say, 'He waved the gun at one of my children, so when he walked out of the bank, I followed him.' Most of us would have stayed in the bank, but not our hero. Sergeant Peoples dashed out."
"I asked him earlier. You know he has a gun, you're safe now, your children are safe, and the other bank customers are safe--What causes you to follow him? He said, 'You know, as a father, I train my kids, and I've told them that when I go to combat, I go and I fight the bad men. My sons are old enough to know that this was a bad man. And I've taught them that we should do the right thing. I would be letting my sons down if I didn't take some action,'" General Piggee related.
Exiting the bank, Peoples quickly entered his rental van, maneuvering it to block the robber's attempted getaway in a sedan. Blocked in, the thief rammed the van multiple times, then jumped out and confronted Peoples as he got out of his van, brandishing his weapon and pointed it at his face.
"Sergeant Peoples, a combat veteran, remained undeterred," General Piggee said, describing the 34 year old's action to stop the larger 6'2", 260 lbs. bank robber. "Sergeant Peoples grabbed the gun and took this guy down to the ground."
Peoples explained the day of the incident in an interview with a local television station reporter that, "I've been through five deployments. I've fought the Muqtada al Sadr militia, so weapons getting pointed at me, it doesn't really bother me anymore. I took the weapon away from him and put him on the ground. The rest is history."
He credits standard Army Combatives training for giving him the skill to quickly disarm the robber.
Peoples stood over the suspect on a large pile of stolen cash until local authorities arrived on the scene. Deputies arrested the man for armed robbery and Peoples went back inside the bank to retrieve his middle sons, Ikaika, 7, and Kioni, 5.
Peoples said in the news interview, "When I walked back in the bank, my oldest boy said 'Did you get the bad men?' and I said 'Yep, I got the bad men,' and everyone applauded."
The Sarasota Police Department presented a commendation medal to Peoples later that day for his selfless actions in the face of danger.
Speaking to his fellow Soldiers, Peoples said, "Although I would never recommend stepping into such a dangerous situation, I hope that my actions would give future criminals a brief pause to consider that the men and women to their left or right just might be past or present members of the U.S. armed forces. As members of the armed forces it is our duty and our oath to protect this great nation from all enemies, both foreign and domestic."
Piggee concluded, "He is an example for the United States Army. This is what this medal is about - true personal courage in the face of danger or adversity. It is living the warrior ethos, in or out of uniform."
21st Theater Sustainment Command
Soldier on leave foils bank robbery in Florida