News: Unarmed airman stops armed robbery
SPANGDAHELM AIR BASE, Germany - It isn't every day that an unarmed bystander stops an armed robbery.
But in March 2011, that is exactly what one airman did.
And for his bravery in the local community that day, Staff Sgt. Nathan Londak, 703rd Munitions Support Squadron, received an Airman's Medal presented by Col. David Julazadeh, 52nd Fighter Wing commander, during a ceremony at Volkel Air Base, the Netherlands, Nov. 15.
According to the medal's citation, the night that Londak "distinguished himself by heroism involving voluntary risk of life" began with him taking his dog for a walk outside his home near the base.
Suddenly, he witnessed two masked men dashing out of a casino they had just robbed.
"As soon as you see individuals running with pantyhose over their heads, you know something isn't right," Londak said.
Without hesitation or regard for his own safety, he barred the robbers' escape route. Realizing Londak determined to stop them, one of the men lunged forward and punched him in the face, according to the citation.
Yet, Londak held his ground, further impeding the robbers by becoming an unexpected obstacle rather than a scared bystander. In doing so, he blocked their escape out of a back alley, foiling the robbers' exit strategy.
Londak described how his security forces training kicked in and instinct took over, as he remained vigilant and aware throughout the ordeal.
"I just remembered that I had to keep at least one of them at the scene for as long as I could," Londak said, anticipating local authorities would arrive soon.
He continued to restrain one of the alleged thieves, despite being outnumbered two-to-one.
Despite his efforts, one of the men helped the other break free of Londak's hold and both men ran down the street.
"I let him go as the second guy swung at me, and I swung back to keep my distance," Londak said. "He helped his buddy up, and they both stumbled away... dropping Euro coins all over the ground."
But Londak didn't allow the pursuit to end just there. He followed both men on foot.
His intervention delayed both men, affording the casino staff enough time alert local authorities.
Police arrived, and with Londak's assistance, apprehended the robbers within 10 minutes from the moment they left the scene of the crime.
And the total amount recovered within those few minutes due to his actions? Roughly €10,000 in stolen cash, according to the police report.
After the incident, an investigation later revealed one of the perpetrators carried a pistol - one he used just moments earlier to hold a cashier at gunpoint before crossing Londak.
"At the time, I didn't know he was armed," he said, after learning of the lethal weapon's existence. "I am thankful that he didn't pull it on me."
When asked about how it felt to receive a medal for his actions, the sergeant said he felt like anyone else would have done the same.
"I honestly didn't feel like I needed a reward for just doing the right thing," he said. "I didn't think it was a big deal - I just stepped in and took action."
Londak's squadron leadership played a significant role in him receiving the Airman's Medal, citing their collective pride in calling him a fellow Airman.
"Nate put his life in danger to stop a crime being committed," said Lt. Col. Jay Block, 52nd Munitions Maintenance Group deputy commander. "He's not the type of guy to look the other way. This event is just a small part of his character. He is a great wingman, and we can count on him to always do the right thing."
The incident that March evening soon made its way around the local community, and later merited coverage from host nation media outlets, lauding him as a hometown hero for both American and Dutch audiences.
But throughout the sometimes overwhelming recognition, Londak humbly emphasized how he just took action to stop something that wasn't right.
"I really don't feel like I am a hero," he said. "I helped because I am part of that community, and I see the casino employees on a regular basis. I feel that everyone has the instinct to help."
The Airman's Medal was established in 1960 and is given to service members or those of a friendly nation while serving in any capacity with the U.S. Air Force distinguishing themselves with heroic actions, usually at the voluntary risk of their lives, but without involving combat, according to a U.S. Air Force Personnel Center factsheet.
Editor's note: Quotes and pieces of this article were contributed by Senior Airman Clay Murray's linked 2011 story.