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NCO defuses gas station crisis

by Susan Griggs
81st Training Wing Public Affairs

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -Gasoline shortages and frustrated motorists are common in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In one instance, a Keesler noncommissioned officer's cool head prevented a potential disaster from erupting.

A long line of motorists was waiting as Staff Sgt. LaShawndra Singleton pulled into a gas station on the interstate near Montgomery, Ala., Aug. 29. She was headed back to Keesler after evacuating to Alabama.

Sergeant Singleton, who has worked in the 81st Mission Support Squadron's military personnel flight for the past two years, topped off her sports utility vehicle's tank and filled a five-gallon gas can she might need for her journey.

"People started coming out of the station saying that they were only letting you get $10 worth, even if you already paid," the Ohio native said. "After I paid for my gas, across from where I was parked I heard a man telling someone to get up and don't make any movements other than rising up. I heard a female saying that she wouldn't, but please don't do this.

"As I got closer to the pump across from my SUV, I saw a man pointing a gun at an elderly woman," said Sergeant Singleton, who was in uniform. "The man was backing up, so I jumped in front of the woman. I told him that he didn't want to do this, and he responded by saying all he wanted was enough gas to get his family north.

"I told him I could give him money, but he said that the gas station was only letting people get $10 worth of gas now, and he needed gas," she said. "I told him that I was trying to get to the Gulf Coast to help, and by doing this, I can't help him or the people down there.

"Then he asked me if I was ready to die, and I said if I did, I knew I had God with me," the sergeant said. "I told him I had five gallons of gas that he could have. As I was opening the trunk, I was so nervous -- I tried talking to him so that no one else would get involved."

She asked him to throw the bullets in the trash and keep the gun if he was scared, but not to make matters worse. He told her he that he just wanted gas, and asked where she was from. When she said she was from Biloxi (Miss.), he started telling her about the terrible destruction Hurricane Katrina had inflicted on south Mississippi.

After the man walked away with her gas can, Sergeant Singleton went back to check on the crying woman who thanked her for intervening.

She pulled onto the interstate to continue her journey, but had to pull off on the shoulder because she couldn't stop shaking.

"It wasn't until I got to Mobile (Ala.) that my nerves had gotten back right," Sergeant Singleton said.

She credited her experiences during her deployment to Iraq last year for enabling her to maintain her composure in a stressful situation. (Air Education and Training Command News Service)

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