NEW YORK - Sgt. Rasheem Thomas, a native of New York City currently attached to Transportation and Support Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., was recognized at the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation’s 19th Annual Semper Fidelis Gala on March 20.
Immediately following a gas leak explosion that occurred in Harlem, N.Y., on March 12, Thomas left his building to see what happened. He said his initial thought after hearing the loud noise was that a train derailed and looked out the window to see people panicking and debris everywhere.
When he got down to the street he found a van with the windows blown out and covered in bricks. The driver was able to get out of the vehicle and let Thomas know that his friend was trapped in the passenger seat and injured. The door would not open and the seatbelt would not release.
Thomas, along with bystanders, began clearing bricks from the van to try to pull the passenger from the roof of the vehicle, which had collapsed and split open from the impact of the debris. After several minutes of clearing debris, Thomas said he realized that was not working and found a knife to cut the seatbelt and pull the passenger out.
Upon the arrival of emergency response teams, the passenger was taken to receive medical care. Thomas had not seen or heard anything else until the night of the gala, where he was reunited with him once again.
“I felt obligated to help,” said Thomas. “I’m absolutely humbled because the situation could have been a lot worse than it was. It’s a tragedy, my condolences go to the families and friends of those people who lost their lives during this incident, but this situation is a lot bigger than just me or any other persons.”
Thomas said it could have been a more serious incident, with more people and structures affected, like his initial thought of the train derailing, but it wasn’t. He said he was glad Joe Kinkade, the passenger he pulled from the vehicle, was safe.
“I don’t doubt that anyone in my unit wouldnt’ve done the same thing,” he said.
Thomas was recruited out of Recruiting Substation Manhattan, Recruiting Station New York, in July 2008. At the gala, he was also reunited with Master Gunnery Sgt. Theodore Grell, who was the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of RSS Manhattan at the time Thomas enlisted.
“Thomas was always motivated. There was nothing we could do that he didn’t want more. He was always ready to move up if need be,” said Grell. “He’s an example of exactly what the Marine Corps is about. His actions show the type of caliber of Marine and citizen he is.”
Thomas has deployed to Afghanistan twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with a gold star in lieu of a second award, the Navy Unit Commendation with a bronze star in lieu of a second award, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with a bronze star in lieu of a second award, the NATO International Security Assistance Force Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon, the National Defense Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.