Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, awarded the Airman’s Medal during a July 12, 2019, ceremony to a 99th Security Forces Squadron Defender who exhibited heroism during the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting Oct. 1, 2017, in Las Vegas.
Satisfying the conditions of the Airman’s Medal, Staff Sgt. Kenneth Delongchamp used his training and instinctually risked his personal safety to preserve the lives of hundreds of concert goers.
“On the worst day in many people’s lives, with the choice between running away from the carnage and running toward it, our Airman, Ken Delongchamp, ran toward it,” said Holmes. “We’re here to celebrate that act.”
Delongchamp and his family were at Route 91 dancing and singing in the front row of the Jason Aldean concert, when Delongchamp identified the distinct sounds of gunfire.
“I wasn’t seeing any impacts, but I was definitely hearing them — snaps, cracks, whizzes, pops, so I could tell the general direction it was coming from,” said Delongchamp. “A lot of people froze, but my actions were instinctual.”
He jumped into action, using his tactical training to move his family and bystanders to safety. He briefed his dad on several exit points and tasked him with getting his family out of the venue and to a safe point.
“Take the rest of the family and get ‘em out,” Delongchamp urged his father. “I told him to also watch out for an ambush. Usually, tactics like that they push people from one place to another just to ambush them there.”
Once his loved ones were out of danger, Delongchamp ran back into the venue to help those frozen in shock.
“Some people just hunkered down and sat there,” said Delongchamp. “In an active shooter situation, that’s not the best route to go, unless you can barricade yourself behind a door or something like that. Being security forces, being a cop in the Air Force, we train very hard to respond and react to active shooter situations.”
Delongchamp identified the raised stage as a suitable place to take cover and ushered people under to shield them from incoming gunfire.
“I probably had a handful of people, 10 or 15, around me I had sheltered from the fire,” said Delongchamp. “Once there was a break in the fire, I told them, ‘We can’t stay here. We have to go.’”
But, before Delongchamp moved the group to safety, two girls ran up to him, one of whom was severely injured by a shot to the head. Her friend didn’t know what to do and pleaded for him to save her. Alerting a nearby security guard, Delongchamp took action.
Delongchamp grabbed the girl and told the security guard, “We gotta get her some help! On three, we’re going!”
With a large crowd of others in tow, Delongchamp ensured all were clear about the plan.
“We’re going to use those buildings for cover and then we’re going to get out to the street and then you guys are going to run as far away as you can from here,” he told them.
“There were people stopping, and I just told them you have to keep moving — those aren’t fireworks,” Delongchamp recalled. “That’s when I got separated from my uncle and everybody else … But, I wasn’t thinking about my family at that particular time, I was just trying to get that girl to safety and get her some help.”
As the crowd scattered, Delongchamp recalled seeing Las Vegas Metro Police Department officers armed and running to the venue to deal with the threat. As they reached they poorly covered parking lot, Delongchamp offered his body as a protective barrier and worked quickly to care for the wounded.
“I positioned myself with my back to where the rounds were coming from to shield them from any fire,” said Delongchamp. “I had the security guard cradle the injured girl’s head. This other guy showed up, so I had him get her legs up just in case. I didn’t want her to go into shock or anything like that.”
Despite the chaos unfolding around them, Delongchamp held the girl’s hand and asked her questions to keep her mind off her injury. After what seemed like forever, hope appeared.
“The next thing I know, some white pickup came speeding down that road and stopped,” said Delongchamp. “The driver said, ‘Hey man, put her in the back! We’re going to the hospital.’”
Delongchamp then ran back to the venue and continued to put himself in danger for the sake of others.
“I didn’t hear any gunshots at that time, but the smell of the gunpowder was pretty distinct in the air,” said Delongchamp. “I didn’t know if it was over at that time, or maybe, he stopped to reload. That’s why I kept people going — just in case. You never know with that type of incident.”
“There’s not a day that goes by that you’re not thinking about at least a little something that happened that night,” said Delongchamp. “I don’t think if I had done anything differently, it would have changed the outcome. I’m just one particular person in that whole giant mess. But, I do believe what I did and what everyone else did that night contributed to saving the amount of lives that were saved.”
Fifty-eight lives were lost that evening but, thanks to the efforts of first responders and other people who acted instinctually, hundreds were saved.
“We can choose a little bit about how we remember that day,” said Holmes. “We know that as we remember and honor the people who were injured and killed that day, we also have heroes right here at Nellis and from the community we can remember, and we can recognize.”
The Airman’s Medal, established in July 1960, is awarded to service members who distinguish themselves by a heroic act, usually at the voluntary risk of their own life while not involving combat.