Tech. Sgt. Jordan Benson said his training kicked in three years ago when he aided dozens of people during America’s deadliest mass shooting.
Benson, his wife and 17 other family members and friends were scattered throughout a crowd of some 22,000 people attending the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in October 2017 when a man opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
With an arsenal that included 23 firearms — at least half of them reportedly had bump stock modifications for rapid fire — the shooter killed 58 people and injured more than 500 others during the nine-minute attack.
As bullets rained down on the concert venue, people near the exits began to scatter and many pockets of people in the crowd began to panic.
Benson didn’t know what happened at first. He thought someone was lighting fireworks on the Vegas Strip, he told Military Times on Tuesday. But he knew something wasn’t right when the intermittent pops turned into the first of several 15-second bursts.
“That’s when I realized and was able to push my wife and my friend and his wife down on the ground and take cover as close as we could,” Benson said.
Though he was scared, his military training kicked in and Benson took action. After the first long burst of shots ended, Benson took his wife and friends to nearby bleachers for cover.
Once safe, he decided to set out and help more of those around him. His wife, Magali, pleaded with him to remain in the safety of cover, but he felt it his duty to help.
He saw a woman nearby who had been shot. Benson rendered aid, applying direct pressure to her gunshot wound.
“Her husband was able to help me lift her up and get her over to the medical tent while trying to take cover wherever we could on the way over there,” Benson said.
As people wandered about in the chaos not knowing what to do, Benson directed them to the exit and away from danger. In all, Benson probably aided about 30 people during the mass shooting. While he was saving the lives of his wife, friends and the strangers around him, Benson didn’t think about his military training, but has since learned to appreciate it.
“It was just muscle memory, really, at that point. All my years of being in the Air Force and having to take SABC classes, I used to think I will probably never have to use any of this training on an actual victim,” Benson said, speaking of the Air Force’s self-aid buddy care training, which teaches basic life support techniques.
After the shooting, Benson became a SABC instructor so he could teach younger airmen the importance of being ready for emergency situations.
Benson was one of several military personnel attending the concert who rendered aid to civilians during the confusion. No active duty personnel were injured during the shooting, but a California Guardsman was.
A Utah Guardsman was awarded that state’s Medal of Valor in September, two Camp Pendleton Marines were awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal last year and a British soldier was also given an award by the Queen Elizabeth II for his part.
After the attack, nine Air Force trauma surgeons reported to the University Medical Center in downtown Las Vegas to assist.
For his actions, Benson received the Airman’s Medal at the Museum of Aviation, located just outside his home station of Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, on Friday.
The Airman’s Medal is a personal military decoration awarded to members of the armed forces who, while not in combat, perform a heroic act at the voluntary risk of their own life.
Benson, an aircraft damage repair technician with the 402nd Aircraft Maintenance Group, was humble when accepting the award.
“It was about more than the actions I was trained to take,” he said during the ceremony. “In that critical, fearful moment it becomes something more eternal. It’s about what’s in your heart: your beliefs, your faith and values.”
Jared is the manager of print design for Sightline Media Group's five magazines under the Military Times and Defense News banners.