by 1st Lt. Danielle Burrows
When Lt. Col. Glyn Bolasky first
You cease to be shocked at such appalling acts after being shot five
times in a rain of bullets.
Twenty-two years ago, Bolasky was a 24-year-old sheriffs deputy
at the Riverside County, Calif., Sheriffs Department. On May 9,
1980, he was the first officer to arrive on the scene of a robbery in
Norco, Calif. He faced five men who were heavily armed with automatic
rifles and handguns, hollow-point bullets and homemade grenades.
During the shooting, the robbers killed one police officer and wounded
eight, including Bolasky. They also shot up a police helicopter and damaged
or destroyed 33 police cruisers.
The bank robbers fired more than 200 rounds at Bolaskys police
cruiser, which sustained 47 bullet holes. Bolaskys body absorbed
shrapnel in five places: the face, upper left shoulder, both forearms
and the left elbow. The elbow wound proved to be the worst of the injuries
as a bullet severed an artery.
Though badly wounded, Bolasky continued to perform his duty. He shot
and killed one of the suspects. It was the first and last time he ever
discharged his weapon in the line of duty, and the first time he had been
When I got shot, I wasnt a cop anymore, he said. I
was a human being trying not to die. I went into a self-defense mode.
It was a caveman mentality with only one thing in mind survival.
The four other suspects fled. The next day, police shot and killed a
second suspect. Police captured the remaining three, who were later convicted
of 46 felony counts and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The Norco bank robbery has been described as one of the most violent
in history. Its used to train anti-terrorism agencies throughout
Since the robbery, Bolasky, who is an electronic warfare officer with
12th Air Force at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., has talked about
what happened that day to more than 6,000 people, including members of
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service and sheriffs
departments around the country. He tells his story so others will learn.
My attitude is that we always have to be ready; we never know whats
going to happen, said Bolasky, who received the Sheriffs Gold
Heart the equivalent of the militarys Purple Heart
and the Medal of Courage from his department and the Sheriffs Association
for his heroic actions that day.
He has traveled across the country, delivering seminars on responding
to high-stress incidents and massive crime or accident scenes.
As far as high-stress goes, Sept. 11 is as big as it gets,
Bolasky said. I cant say I was shocked at the magnitude. In
my briefings, Ive been saying for years this was coming. It was
only a matter of time before something like this reached U.S. soil.
Bolasky hopes the tragedy serves as an awakening.
Making people believe something like terrorism can happen to them
is the number one thing to overcome when trying to promote prevention
and readiness, he said. Heck, even just a couple weeks before
the Norco robbery, my supervisor was saying nothing ever happens around
Bolasky made it his mission to make people realize it can happen in their
Its sort of like cancer, he explained. Everyone
knows cancer is a problem. They read all the statistics. But until it
happens to them, they always believe its something that happens
to everyone else. So they dont get regular checkups. They dont
alter their diets. They simply dont believe it will happen to them.
He says they take the same attitude with terrorism.
Terrorism is also something that happens to the other guy,
he said. People just dont believe itll ever hit home.
He admits that following Sept. 11 some of that invulnerability has changed.
Today if you try to hijack an airliner in this country, the whole
planeload of people is going to come after you, he said. What
do they have to lose?
But Bolasky says there are still things to overcome. One of those is
Its amazing with all the technology today that agencies still
cant talk to each other, he said. It happened to us
during the bank robbery. Different agencies were on different frequencies,
and we couldnt communicate with each other. A lot of the same problems
For the average citizen, its less technical and more common sense.
Bolasky doesnt preach paranoia. It should still be fun to be an
American, he says. But people should remain vigilant.
For one thing, you should pay attention to your surroundings,
he said. Im not talking a life-altering change. Im just
saying that if, for instance, you go to a convenience store and notice
that theres no one behind the counter, you might ask yourself why.
Is something wrong? More than likely, the clerk is stocking shelves or
something innocent. Then again, maybe hes lying behind the counter
with a gun to his head. Its worth an extra minute or two to assess
the situation, instead of walking into the middle of something youre
not prepared for.
Another common sense tip is to carry a cell phone with emergency numbers.
Or for military members, be proud of being in the military, but
dont necessarily flaunt it, Bolasky said. This has been
the case overseas for a long time, but the fact is, why give a stranger
more information about you than he needs?
Bolasky said that you dont have to be an anti-terrorism expert
to make a difference.
Military people get plenty of realistic training that will help
them in a terrorist situation, he said. In a high-stress situation,
we all revert back to the training weve had. Thats why its
so important to train serious and hard. The brain works fast in a life
or death situation, and youll recall things you were taught. Your
training will give you the ability to assess situations quickly and make
In the end, it may help you avoid being a statistic on the 11 oclock news.