When envisioning a superhero, you might imagine someone who is fictional, has powers and who is abnormally strong – in other words, someone who is not like the average person.
For one Airman, his childhood dream of becoming a superhero became his reality. Tech. Sgt. Michael Walker, 309th Fighter Squadron aviation resource manager, received the 2021 Air Force Sergeants Association William H. Pitsenbarger Heroism Award March 17. The AFSA presents the award annually to an enlisted Air Force member who has performed a heroic act, on or off duty, resulting in the saving of life or the prevention of serious injury.
Walker was credited with helping save the lives of 28 people while off-duty in 2020 during an active-shooter incident in the Westgate Entertainment District in Glendale.
On May 20, 2020, Walker was having dinner with friends. Near the end of his meal, he noticed people running outside the restaurant, followed by the sound of multiple gunshots. He immediately ran to the front entrance to barricade the doors where, according to Walker, he stood around 10 to 15 feet from the shooter’s back.
“All I could think about was locking the doors and getting people safely inside,” Walker said.
Walker said he guided all the restaurant staff and customers into the kitchen to hide and told them to barricade the kitchen doors so they could only be opened from inside. He then retrieved the keys to the restaurant’s front doors from the manager. As he watched the shooter walk away from the front entrance of the restaurant, Walker exited the building, locked the doors and closed three garage-like rolling security doors from the outside, putting himself at risk.
“You could still hear people yelling and running,” Walker said. “I didn’t really think about me; I thought about saving others. In that moment, you have to decide: Flight or fight. I chose fight.”
After four deployments and numerous active-shooter exercises during his eight years in the Air Force, he said his actions felt second nature.
“Training for a situation like this is a lot different than the actual thing,” Walker said. “We always tend to think, ‘I would have done things like this in the moment,’ but what would you have actually done? I took what the Air Force taught me and applied it to the situation.”
Walker risking his life for those around him during a catastrophic event came as no shock to those who know him.
“It was not a surprise that he jumped into action in the midst of a dangerous [and] deadly situation to help others,” said Master Sgt. Ashley McGee, 310th Fighter Squadron superintendent and Walker’s previous supervisor. “He was not thinking of his life when he exposed himself outside where the shooter was located. He only thought about the safety of the people around him.”
Walker explained that the experience made him more self-aware and cognizant of his surroundings. His actions to protect and defend those around him in the face of danger display his dedication to the Air Force’s core value of service before self.
“I signed up (for the military) for a reason,” Walker said. “I know why I put this uniform on every day. I didn’t think that my mom could have lost a son and my brother could have lost a brother; I thought about saving others. I wouldn’t have done it any other way.”