Local soldier among four who stopped robbery

Capt. Clark H. Tucker/Photo

Spc. James Cerqua of Six Mile, third from left, was one of four soldiers who recently thwarted an attempted robbery at a convenience store in El Paso, Texas. Joining Cerqua, from left, were Spc. Sterling Meachamlane, Pfc. Drew Coursey and Pfc. Tony Johnson.

By Capt. Clark H. Tucker,  Special to The Courier

EL PASO, Texas — Being a soldier has never been a 9-to-5 profession.

On May 16, a local soldier stationed in Texas demonstrated just that, as he was one of four soldiers from Alpha Company, 86th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, who answered the call of civic duty at an El Paso 7-Eleven. The four have been awarded the Army Commendation Medal for their actions.

A Six Mile native, Spc. James Cerqua was riding along with Pfc. Drew Coursey, Pfc. Troy Johnson and Spc. Sterling Meachamlane when the group stopped to refuel and grab snacks as the work week ended. As they fueled up and went inside to pay, the soldiers noticed a man attempting to rob the store clerk.

“I was walking inside and saw a man aggressively waving his arms at Cerqua and the store clerk,” Johnson said. “Once we came inside, I asked him what was going on and tried to calm him down.”

As the other soldiers entered the store, the suspect attempted to flee. Cerqua and Johnson pursued the man and subdued him a short distance from the premises, recovering the stolen items.

“When my battle buddies took off after the guy, Meachamlane and I searched the store for any additional suspects and locked the door to make sure the clerk was safe,” Coursey said. “We told her to call the police and stood near the door as we waited for the police to arrive.”

As Johnson and Cerqua detained the man and recovered the stolen items, a second suspect approached. With the authorities en route, the soldiers complied with the man’s order to leave, but not before returning the items to the store clerk. After consoling the shaken employee, the soldiers left as the police arrived on scene, making an arrest.

“The El Paso community has always supported those of us in the Army here at Fort Bliss,” Command Sgt. Maj. Morgan Barnett of the 86th ESB said. “This is just one example of our soldiers giving back to the community. We’re thankful for the hospitality El Pasoans extend to us as neighbors in this great community.”

The actions of the soldiers are evidence of the importance the Army places on being both soldier and civilian, officials said.

“Our weekly safety briefings are intended to ensure our soldiers know what the American people expect of them as members of this community, and how to act accordingly,” said Lt. Col. Keith Dawson, commander, 86th ESB. “Our men and women have a vested interest in El Paso being a safe community, because this is our home and where we raise our families.

The soldiers involved are safe and back to work on post. The store clerk called the Alpha Company leadership and extended her gratitude for their soldiers’ role in thwarting the attempted robbery.

The four were formally recognized on May 29 and received the Army Commendation Medal.

“These soldiers did the right thing and deserve to be recognized,” said Col. James Parks III, commander, 11th Signal Brigade. “Service members are both soldier and citizen. The acts of these men are commendable, and we are proud of them.”