Eastwood Taps Real-Life Heroes to Play Themselves in Film


By Debbie Gregory.

The 15:17 to Paris, a new film directed by Clint Eastwood, will have three unlikely stars: the three California men who famously thwarted the terror attack on the Paris-bound train.

Anthony Sadler, Alex Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone, who were vacationing in Europe at the time of the attack on August 21, 2015, will play themselves in their acting debuts.

The film is based on a book of the same name, which the men co-wrote. In an eleventh hour decision, Eastwood called off the prior casting decisions in favor of casting the real-life emergency responders. The casting move is similar to Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” which featured an almost-unknown cast (outside of Eastwood, who also starred in the movie.)

The film will tell the story of the three men, from their childhood in Sacramento, CA to the fateful evening they faced a heavily armed Moroccan terrorist bent on a mass killing spree.

All three men received the Legion of Honor, the highest French order of merit, for their actions.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Stone also received the Airman’s Medal and the Purple Heart. Skarlatos, an Oregon Army National Guardsman and Afghan War veteran, received the Soldier’s Medal, the U.S. Army’s highest award for peacetime valor. Sadler, a civilian, was bestowed the Secretary of Defense Medal for Valor.

Eastwood recently directed two other films based on the true stories: American Sniper, the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, and Sully, about celebrated pilot Chesley Sullenberger.

Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer, and Ray Corasani will also join the real-life heroes in the film. Paul-Mikel Williams, Max Ivutin, Bryce Gheisar, Cole Eichenberger, and William Jennings will play younger versions of the Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone.

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French Train Attack Hero Released From Hospital: Military Connection


By Debbie Gregory.

Spencer Stone, the U.S. Air Force Airman who thwarted a terrorist attack on a French train in August, was released from the hospital following a violent stabbing attack in Sacramento CA.

The 23 year old Stone suffered multiple stab wounds, including one to his heart, during an early morning fight. He was rushed to UC Davis Medical Center, where he underwent open heart surgery.

Stone issued a written statement thanking the emergency responders and the team at UC Davis Medical Center for caring for him.

He also thanked all the well-wishers, and said, “I’m focused now on healing and recovering and look forward to the next part of my journey.”

According to a GoFundMe account set up by Spencer’s brother, Everett, Spencer Stone’s medical costs are covered by the military. The money they are raising on the crowdfunding platform is going to assist family members who have needed to take time off to care for Spencer at this critical time.

Stone’s mother, Joyce Eskel, released a written statement: “Our family wishes to express our deepest gratitude to the staff and providers at UC Davis Medical Center. I’m especially grateful to (trauma surgeons) Dr. Ellie Curtis, Dr. Garth Utter, the entire trauma team and the ICU nurses who treated Spencer so well. We’ve been overwhelmed by the support from our family and friends, the Sacramento area, the Air Force and people around the world. Thank you all.”

Stone and his traveling companions Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, thwarted a terrorist attack when they tackled and subdued a would-be terrorist on a Paris-bound train. Stone suffered cuts to the neck and a deep wound on a thumb in that incident.

Police have described the assailants in this recent incident as two Asian men, wearing white shirts and blue jeans. They are believed to have fled in a dark-colored Toyota Camry.

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Change of Criteria for Medals: Military Connection

Change of Criteria for Medals

By Debbie Gregory.

It is widely known that Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone risked his life to stop an Islamic extremism aboard a train in France. But since the incident occurred in the French countryside, far from any declared combat zones, Stone was not eligible for traditional valor medals, such as the Bronze Star or Silver Star. Those medals are limited to formal combat zones or military operations against a specified enemy.

Ultimately, the Air Force opted to give Stone an Airman’s Medal, which recognizes heroism “under conditions other than those of actual conflict with an enemy.”

Air Force Secretary Deborah James said,”The Airman’s Medal is the highest award in a non-combat situation that we could possibly award to Airman Stone.”

Stone’s honor demonstrates how the military’s medal and awards system has failed to keep pace with the changing reality of today’s threats and the types of valor displayed by some of service members in certain circumstances.

James said that the entire military medals and awards system is “is being looked at right now within the Department of Defense. We’re trying to think that through.”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter is expected to approve major changes to the rules governing awards, some of which have stood for more than 100 years old. Since 9/11, the military has faced an increasing number of nontraditional threats.

Also under consideration is the Distinguished Warfare Medal. Commonly referred to as a drone medal, it is intended to honor drone pilots, cyber warriors and those who may not be forward-deployed and facing imminent personal risk, but still perform extraordinary missions, saving American lives or destroying enemy targets.

Congress recently changed the law governing the Purple Heart to broaden the definition of an attack by a “a foreign terrorist organization” to include what’s become known as “lone-wolf attacks.” That change is allowing the Air Force to award Stone a Purple Heart because the French law enforcement authorities are treating the train shooting as an act of terrorism.

Awards and Accolades for Train Heroes: Military Connection

Awards and Accolades for Train Heroes

By Debbie Gregory.

When the Air Force sought to honor Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone for his heroic actions in stopping a terrorist gunman on a French train this summer, the options were limited.

Since the incident occurred in the French countryside, far from any declared combat zones, Stone was not eligible for traditional valor medals like the Bronze Star or Silver Star. Those medals are limited to formal combat zones or military operations against a specified enemy.

The Air Force opted to give Stone an Airman’s Medal, an honor that technically ranks above the Bronze Star in the military’s official medals “order of precedence.”

President Obama met with Stone, U.S. Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler, who also participated in the takedown of gunman Ayoub El-Khazzani. The president said the three young Americans represented “the very best of America and the American character.”

The White House visit was just one of the accolades the service members received Thursday. In addition to his Airman’s Medal, Stone was also awarded a Purple Heart at a Pentagon ceremony. Skarlatos is receiving the Soldier’s medal, and Sadler is getting a civilian award. Stone will reportedly be promoted two ranks, bypassing the level of senior airman to reach staff sergeant.

The three friends have already been awarded France’s highest decoration, the Legion D’honneur, for their heroism. They were also honored with a parade on September 11th in Sacramento.

In an interesting turn of events, Skarlatos has teamed up with professional dancer Lindsay Arnold to compete on the new season of Dancing With the Stars. He danced a foxtrot to Afrojack’s “Ten Feet Tall” with partner Arnold, receiving rave reviews. In less than a month, the 22-year-old’s dancing inexperience seems to have been eradicated, along with his anonymity.

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Heroes Among Us: Military Connection

Heroes Among Us

By Debbie Gregory.

Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone will receive the Airman’s Medal and possibly the Purple Heart for helping stop a gunman on a European train.

Not only did Stone tackle the gunman, his quick thinking and action saved the life of a passenger who was shot in the neck and losing blood. Stone applied pressure on the wound and held that position until paramedics arrived.

Stone was traveling with friends Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris when they came face to face with a suspected Islamic extremist who was armed with an AK-47, Luger pistol and box cutter.

The three Americans leapt into action, along with British businessman Chris Norman, confronting the gunman who had strapped the assault rifle across his bare chest.

They subdued the gunman, saving countless lives.

Stone’s unit put him up for the Airman’s Medal, and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said that he also may be eligible for the Purple Heart.

“We are looking at the potential, to see whether we can award the Purple Heart as well,” Welsh said, but it will first have to be determined whether the train incident was an act of terrorism.

The gunman, 26-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani, is an Islamic extremist who may have spent time in Syria.

Stone, Sadler, Skarlatos and Norman have already received the French Legion of Honor from French President Francois Hollande.

Hollande said, “Your heroism must be an example for many and a source of inspiration. Faced with the evil of terrorism, there is a good, that of humanity. You are the incarnation of that.”

“Alek just hit me on the shoulder and said, ‘Let’s go.’ And [I] ran down, tackled him. We hit the ground. Alek came up and grabbed the gun out of his hand while I put him in a choke hold.”

Just like that! Spoken so matter-of-factly. Like a true hero.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Averting A Major Catastrophe: Military Connection


By Debbie Gregory.

French President Francois Hollande awarded the Legion d’Honneur to four men who put their personal safety aside to overpower a gunman on a train in France.

Americans Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler, and Briton Chris Norman heroically attacked the suspect aboard the high-speed Thylas train, traveling from Amsterdam to Paris last week. “By their courage, they saved lives,” Hollande said. “They gave us an example of what is possible to do in these kinds of situations.”

Hollande expressed his gratitude for their bravery, as well as that of the 28-year-old French professor who was the first to tackle the gunman but did “not want his name to be made public.” Hollande said he would award the medal to Mark Moogalian, the American-born French academic who is still in a hospital as soon as possible.

Moogalian, who was travelling with his wife, was suspicious of the suspect because he entered the toilet with his suitcase and stayed inside a long time. When the suspect came out, Moogalian saw that he had a weapon and tried to remove it. He was shot in the neck with a Luger.

“He seemed like he was ready to fight to the end. So were we,” said Spencer Stone.

They punched the suspect, choked him and hit him with his own weapons. They finally restrained him before the train pulled up in Arras in northern France.

Although he was badly cut in the struggle, Stone was able to apply pressure to Moogalian’s neck to control the bleeding.

The alleged gunman, identified as Moroccan national Ayoub El Khazzani, carried an AK-47 assault weapon, in addition to the Luger, ammo, and a box cutter.

Sadler, Stone and Skarlatos reportedly met in middle school in California and planned on spending the summer sightseeing together. It was Sadler’s first trip to Europe, and National Guardsman Skarlatos was on a month-long break after serving in Afghanistan. Stone is an Air Force serviceman.

“We are here to honor four men who, thanks to their bravery, managed to save lives,” Hollande said at the ceremony. “They showed what could be done in terrible circumstances. You put your lives at risk in order to defend freedom.” Hollande continued. “You behaved like soldiers but also as men, responsible men.”