Airman Who Helped Stop Attack on Paris-Bound Train to Get Purple Heart

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone meets Chief Master Sgt. Phillip Easton, 86th Airlift Wing command chief, upon his arrival to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 24. 2015. (Sara Keller/U.S. Air Force)
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone meets Chief Master Sgt. Phillip Easton, 86th Airlift Wing command chief, upon his arrival to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 24. 2015. (Sara Keller/U.S. Air Force)

Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone will be awarded the Purple Heart in addition to the Airman's Medal for his actions with two American friends in taking down a suspected terrorist wielding an AK-47 assault rifle aboard an Amsterdam-Paris train last month, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Monday.

It was already known that Stone, who has been called "our very own 'Captain America'" by James,   would be getting the Airman's Medal, the highest non-combat award in the Air Force. In a morning speech at the first day of the Air and Space Conference sponsored by the Air Force Association, James said he also "would be awarded the Purple Heart for the wounds he received during that action."

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was expected to issue the honors Wednesday at a Pentagon ceremony. The two childhood friends who helped Stone subdue the gunman -- Oregon National Guard Spec. Alek Skarlatos and civilian Anthony Sadler -- were also expected to attend.

James joked that she expected Stone to be on time for the ceremony. He should "not have any difficulty getting here to Washington because he was just awarded a brand new Camaro" on a TV show, she said.

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At a Pentagon briefing with James last month, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said that Stone was not eligible for other U.S. military valor awards, such as the Bronze Star with "V" device and Silver Star, since he was not involved in a combat action. "For a non-combat award, this is the highest that we can give to an Airman who puts his life at risk to help or save another," he said at the time.

However, the service's top uniformed officer added, "We are looking at the potential, if this is characterized by the law enforcement in France as a terrorist-related event, we will look at the precedent established in the Fort Hood incident to look at whether we can award the Purple Heart as well."

The victims of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting were able to receive Purple Hearts after the Defense Authorization Act of 2015 extended the award's eligibility to soldiers killed or wounded in attacks by foreign terrorist organizations. Stone received a severe hand wound from a box cutter and other injuries when he tackled the gunman.

French officials have said that the suspected train gunman, identified as 26-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani, was believed to belong to a radical Islamist movement.

On Sept. 11, the three California friends rode a float in a parade and were honored as "Sacramento Hometown Heroes."

"This support is amazing and we all love you," Stone said, "and like Anthony said, we don't want to forget why we're gathered today" to honor the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.

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