RETIRING SOLDIER EMERGES HERO TO HIS TOWNMATES
FORT BONIFACIO, Taguig City – To a retiring Army soldier, facing the dangers brought by his chosen profession is part of his instincts. While spending a study leave prior to his retirement, he did not expect that he will be plunged into extraordinary circumstances, making him a hero in his community one quiet afternoon on May 18, 2012.
Master Sergeant Eleno Leopoldo, 50, of the Army's 58th Infantry Battalion, was returning home from his rice field in his hometown Cortes, Surigao del Sur when he heard people shouting frantically.
The hint of a violent crime taking place near his home brought chills to his spine. Crime is almost nil in the rural community of Burgos village, his residence for at least two decades.
When he heard the distinctive cracks of gunfire, the sudden rush of adrenaline prompted him to reach for his rusty ARMSCOR Squibman Cal .22 Rifle inside the house. Sensing that someone needs some help, he rushed outside with his loaded rifle.
Along the way, a man told him that a businessman-neighbor was robbed by four armed men about 300 meters away. As he walked towards the said house, he was shocked to see the armed men trying to snatch the motorcycle of his friend, Tomas Corales.
The robbers pistol-whipped Tomas, toppling him down. They also shot Vincent, the son of Tomas, hitting both his thighs. Having raised 6 children, his fatherly instincts told him to act accordingly.
Seeing that Leopoldo was carrying a rifle, two of the robbers shot him, forcing him to duck for cover. He saw the two other men boarded the motorcycle and started to flee, followed by the two others on foot.
Defending his neighbors
While raining bullets on Leopoldo, the robbers gradually retreated. Finding himself in the middle of a firefight with only 6 bullets, Leopoldo wanted to hit his target accurately.
Marking his sights on the center mass of one robber, he fired his first shot from a distance of 50 meters, hitting the man in the abdomen.
More bullets rained on him, but he advanced to pursue the criminals while inserting another bullet to his single-shot weapon. Inspired by his courage, more people came to help with all projectiles that they picked along the way.
As he readied his weapon to shoot another armed criminal, he gave his distinctive command: "Hurl your stones at them, let us fight these criminals!"
As some neighbors engaged the fleeing robbers with stones, he got the chance to get an excellent sight picture. Aiming at the face of another criminal, he fired his second shot, hitting the man the center of his nose.
About fifty meters away, the robbers who boarded the motorcycle accidentally crashed sending them to the ground. More stones from the bystanders rained on them too.
Leopoldo said that he kept firing on the 'moving targets' who ran for their lives.
"I really wanted to get all of them for the crimes they committed in my locality. I chased them but stopped when I had only two remaining bullets," he narrated.
The police arrived after 10 minutes, pistols in 'ready position' as they approached the scene.
"I was mistaken as one of the suspects because I was walking barefoot and looked dirty. Since I came from my rice paddies, nobody would immediately know that I am a soldier," he narrated.
Later, he joined the police and some neighbors during the clearing operations. Theywere able to confiscate two pistols from the robbers, and part of the stolen money was returned to the owner.
Small town hero
Leopoldo was able to use his skills, acquired through the 26 years in the Philippine Army, by defending his community against criminals.
"The marksmanship training that I learned in the Army was put to good use. But, it is the first time that I have used my shooting skills against criminal gang members," said Leopoldo, a veteran to various skirmishes with armed groups in different areas in Northern Mindanao.
After witnessing the jaw-dropping and courageous heroic acts under fire, people in his community are now considering him a new hero, making him prouder as an Army soldier.
Thanks to social media, more and more people learned about his highly commendable feat.
Members of a competitive shooting group, Long Range Rimfire Philippines (LRRP) took notice of his exemplary deeds done 'beyond the call of duty'.
Randy Paronda, a champion rifle shooter is one of them. He promptly recommended to his fellow shooters the granting of a reward for the soldier-hero.
"I truly appreciate the heroic feat of this soldier. His shining example must be known to all soldiers," he said.
Lt Col. George Chua, the Commanding Officer of ARMSCOR Ready Reserve Battalion based in Marikina City, promptly pledged the awarding of a brandnew 9mm ARMSCOR Pistol for Leopoldo.
"We admire Msgt Leopoldo's heroic actions in defending his community. Armed with a single-shot ARMSCOR rifle, he was unfazed by the dangers posed by the rob gang members who were armed with semi-automatic weapons," said Chua, the Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of ARMSCOR, the leading firearms manufacturer in the country today.
Other members of the shooting community poured in funds for Leopoldo's travel allowances. Many of them also want to witness the awarding ceremony that will be held during the annual Defense and Sporting Arms Show in Manila in July 2012.
Despite being hailed as a hero, Leopoldo remains humble and unassuming. He said that he just did the right thing as a responsible citizen.
“I am not happy taking one’s life, but, I was forced do it in order to save the innocent people who needed my help. As a resident here, it is also my responsibility to defend my community against criminals,” added Leopoldo, a native of Oroquieta City.