A Different Kind of “Fangirling”: Staff Sergeant Spencer Stone

Getting to meet Staff Sergeant Spencer Stone has been a highlight of my career. Image credit: Patricia Vollmer.
Getting to meet Staff Sergeant Spencer Stone has been a highlight of my career. Image credit: Patricia Vollmer.

Throughout my years with GeekMom, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people. I have written about meeting book, comic, music, and film/TV celebrities and I get my share of fangirl “squeeing”—hopefully mostly internally—while I’m shaking his/her hand and talking.

A couple weeks ago, through a program at the U.S. Air Force Academy, I had the opportunity to listen to Staff Sergeant Spencer Stone (say that four times fast!) give an account of the events that led to his incapacitating a terrorist on a high speed train in France last August. The two-day event was filled with inspirational speakers, and I heard several wonderful talks from non-profit owners, industry leaders, and higher-ranking military leaders. However, I was the most excited about hearing Sergeant Stone’s account. Inside, I was certainly Kermit-flailing!

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I had seen Sergeant Stone on a couple of his post-incident interviews, including the Jimmy Kimmel Live interview during which a Chevy Camaro was driven out onto the stage, a gift for him (more about that later). In each case, the host did a lot of the talking, and Stone succinctly answered the questions.

It turns out he’s a pretty quiet, humble individual. This was reflected in the talk I attended. Another officer was on the stage with Sergeant Stone and his job was to help prompt Stone with his recollection of the events on the train. Like a panel moderator.

Much of his account was familiar from the media interviews, but with over an hour on the stage, Stone was able to give us much more detail. He was able to be himself just a little more with our audience. There was no hiding the fact that the reason he was on the train at all with his friends was for a party trip around Europe. He was working hard at his Air Force job; he definitely deserved a vacation. Stone also made it clear that a higher power was on his side with what he did, pointing out that a weapon was fired at him more than once but it had malfunctioned. These were things we didn’t get to hear in the CNN and late-night talk show interviews.

There were photos and videos to accompany the talk, including several that I don’t think were widely distributed in the media, such as a rather graphic one with Ayoub El Khazzani himself restrained and Stone—with bloodied boxcutter slashes on the back of his neck—giving first aid to a French passenger who had also attempted to restrain the gunman. That passenger was shot in the neck.

The moderator wanted to make sure Stone pointed out a couple of things. First of all, out of several dozen people in that particular train car, Stone and his two travel friends, plus one other passenger, were the only ones with the fortitude to do something about a passenger brandishing an AK-47. The rest minded their own business. Stone discussed what was going through his head at the time. He and his friends had discussed together whether to engage the terrorist. Since Stone was closest to the aisle, he took action first. There was a discussion about what each of us would do in similar scenarios. Secondly, the train crew ran to a “safe place” and locked themselves into that space. They were completely unavailable during the incident. Sergeant Stone recently received a letter from one of the train passengers, who was traveling with his two children, thanking him for taking action. That passenger has been vocal in his disappointment in the train crew.

Sergeant Stone offered to remain after his talk to answer further questions and take pictures with attendees. My initial reason for getting into the long line after the talk was to ask to him about his new Camaro that he received on Jimmy Kimmel Live, but as I was waiting in line, I was feeling as excited as I have been in line to meet other celebrities.

I would get to meet a real American hero.

When I got to the front of the line, I shook Sergeant Stone’s hand, thanked him for doing the right thing, took a cell phone picture, and then asked about the Camaro.

Is the Air Force allowing you to keep the car?

It turns out, there is a “meritorious public service” exception to the Federal ethics regulation that is allowing Stone to keep the car. In fact, the car seen on Jimmy Kimmel isn’t the one he’s keeping. He was allowed to custom order a Camaro of his choice, which will be delivered later this month. Sergeant Stone did admit that it took a lot of research into the rules to ensure this was legal before it was presented.

Perhaps reading this isn’t quite as exciting as I’m making it sound. But in my opinion, getting to meet Staff Sergeant Spencer Stone was far more of a “fangirl” experience than meeting any professional athlete, movie actor, or favorite rock band member. And Sergeant Stone deserves it. In a split second, he was part of thwarting a terrorist attack, and helped save the lives of over 500 people.

Hearing his account and seeing his incredible humility has made me think about what I would do in a similar scenario. Would I stay and fight the gunman? Or would I run to the “safe place”? I’m not sure I want to be in a position to find out necessarily, but I do hope that I have the bravery that Sergeant Stone did last summer.

Patricia Vollmer is a geeky meteorologist mother of two emerging geek sons, ages 11 & 14. Patricia blogs about her family's nomadic military life at Ground Control to Major Mom. Home is always where the Air Force sends her family, which for now is in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Hobbies include running, despite no one chasing her, and exploring the world with her boys. Ask her why the sky is blue at your own risk.