Alek Skarlatos, the former Oregon National Guard soldier who tackled a heavily-armed terrorist aboard a Paris-bound train in August of 2015, is now running to represent his state in the United States Congress as a Republican.
The unlikely hero, who happened to be traveling on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris, France for a short vacation with his two childhood friends, tackled a man who came out of a train restroom with guns blazing, shooting another passenger in the neck before eventually becoming subdued by the fearless men.
Together with his childhood friends Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler, with the assistance of Chris Norman, an Englishman who decided he would help the young men take down the terrorist, Skarlatos and his buddies became household names after taking the initiative to neutralize the threat.
The terrorist, later identified as Moroccan national Ayoub El Khazzani, was armed with an AK-47, a Luger pistol, a box cutter, and a glass jar full of gasoline. He had intended to kill as many people as he could on the train that day, and was only stopped after Skarlatos beat him with the butt of the terrorist’s own weapon and Air Force aviator Spencer Stone choked him into unconsciousness.
The entire group, including Stone, who was seriously injured in the attack, and Anthony Sadler, a childhood friend and fellow parochial school classmate of both men, were accorded the honor of being made Chevaliers in the French Legion of Honor, along with Norman.
Later starring as himself in a Clint Eastwood film on the incident, titled “15:17 from Paris,” the young Greek-American man, who retired from the military in 2017, received a number of other accolades from around the world, earning the US Army’s Soldier’s Medal and Oregon’s Distinguished Service Medal for his bravery.
He was also accorded honorary French citizenship in 2018.
Remembering that pivotal day in his life back in 2015, he says, “The first thing I noticed was the gunshots and the broken glass.” Explaining that he and his friends were seated at the very front of the train carriage, he recalls “I looked back to see the AK-47. I tapped Spencer on the shoulder and basically said, ‘Let’s go.'”
After spending a tour in Afghanistan, Skarlatos was certainly prepped for any situation — but previous discussions between the three friends most likely made the pivotal difference in what happened that day. “The biggest factor,” Skarlatos says, “was that I had known these guys for so long (Spencer since we were five and Anthony since we were 11) that we had already talked about that kind of incident happening… we basically knew that we had to fight if we had any chance of surviving.”
Skarlatos, the son of 71-year-old Greek immigrant Emmanuel Skarlatos from Alexandropouli, feels compelled again to do what he can to contribute to society and help his country.
Skarlatos spoke to Greek Reporter in an exclusive interview on Thursday, recalling the fateful day of the train attack and describing how he would like to make further contributions to society by being elected Congressman from Oregon’s Fourth District.
Once the most wealthy school district in the state, now Oregon’s Fourth District is experiencing hard times, partially as a result of losses in the timber industry, the erstwhile economic backbone of the state. Asked what he would do to help get his district back on track, Skarlatos said he would “do whatever I can to diversify the economy. We have to pursue salvage logging – this is one common-sense compromise that needs to be made.”
He also stressed that there needs to be better medical care in Southwest Oregon, focusing on the Veterans Administration, saying it needs to be “reformed … what it has done for the Vietnam veterans and the more recent veterans is heartbreaking.” Skarlatos favors a private voucher system, stating “The VA needs to be forced to compete” in the medical sector alongside other providers.
Trying to unseat a sitting Congressman like Oregon’s Peter DeFazio, who has been in office for 33 years — longer than Skarlatos has been alive — is no easy task. The Congressional hopeful believes that DeFazio has done very little to help southwestern Oregon despite being in power all the years of the timber industry’s decline. “It’s the poorest Congressional district in Oregon,” Skarlatos states of his region. “Now the city of Eugene has the highest rate of homelessness in the country.”
The National Guard veteran cites other reasons for his distaste for DeFazio’s leadership, explaining that the longtime Congressman was a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal and that he is in favor of defunding the police.
Skarlatos tells Greek Reporter that he understands why many are frustrated with the actions of the police but, he states firmly, defunding them “is not the answer. They need more training, not less. When you take away the funding, you take away training funds as well. They need more training in how to de-escalate situations.”
He muses that “it’s always interesting to watch” what is currently happening in Portland, Oregon, adding that it is striking to hear the Portland mayor, who is a far-left liberal, getting booed by protestors who are even further to the left than himself. “We need to look at what the protestors are really after,” Skarlatos adds.
Creating real change is fine, he says, but “rioting, looting and burning buildings is simply wrong. We need to realize these people don’t represent more than 10% of the whole country.”
Discussing what it means to him to be Greek, Skarlatos says that his roots in the country have been “very important” in his life. “Dad did a very good job in letting us know the history of the country.”
Considering the extraordinary lives of Skarlatos’ grandparents, it is a little easier to understand how the National Guardsman could have acted in such a calm manner, showing no hesitation in bringing down the terrorist on the train five years ago.
“My grandfather,” he relates to Greek Reporter, “fought in the Greek resistance during the Second World War. He was captured by the Germans and was transported to a prisoner of war camp in Germany.
“He, alongside many others, was forced to work in a factory making boots. He met my grandmother working there (she had also been a resistance fighter) and they married. They returned to Greece but then immigrated to the US around 1955.”
If his family’s legacy and his own heroic actions on that French train prove anything, it is that this young Greek-American man is fearless in his pursuit of what he wants. Skarlatos won the Republican primary in June and will face DeFazio in the upcoming elections in November.