Staff Sgt. Thomas R. Wallace, a recruiter in Queens, New York City, teaches recruits about honor, courage and commitment. It paid off when his poolees thwarted a robbery. From left, Wallace, Ricky Lazaro, Jonathan Villa, Fabio Alves Desousa and Milton Mora. Not pictured: Andres Eras. (Marine Corps)
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For five poolees in the Queens borough of New York City, June 25 started out like a lot of days: group PT in Juniper Valley Park. But then things got weird.
As they wrapped up a run and headed back to their recruiting station, shouts for help erupted from a nearby pharmacy. There, they saw a man run from a building. He had an armful of medical supplies and over-the-counter drugs.
"We just looked at each other and knew what we had to do and starting chasing him," said Fabio Alves Desousa, one of the prospective Marine recruits credited with causing the would-be robber to drop his stash.
The poolees say they initially thought the shouting was a group of kids horsing around. Once they saw the store manager needed help, the poolees pursued the suspect for two or three blocks, approaching him from different directions.
It's unclear whether the incident was an armed robbery, but the poolees said they cautioned each other to watch for a weapon after they saw the man drop all the medical supplies and reach into his pocket.
A potentially dangerous encounter, yes, but even without formal Marine Corps training — four of the five will report to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., later this year, while the fifth has another year of school to complete — early instruction about the service's core values served to embolden them.
"The Marines always teach us to do the right thing," said Milton Mora, who ships to boot camp later this year. "They try to make better citizens, and that flashbacked to us."
Staff Sgt. Thomas Wallace oversees the poolees and insists lessons of honor, courage and commitment start on Day One at the recruiting station. Wallace said he's proud of how these five responded and reminds all poolees that everything they do — whether good or bad — will reflect on the Marine Corps.
"We always extend our help to the community as much as we can," he said. "We're part of a community, and this is something we take pride in."
After the suspect escaped, the poolees gathered all the medical supplies he dropped and returned them to the pharmacy, where the grateful manager offered the men a reward. They declined.
"We just did what we had to do," Mora said.