Tyler Wallace and his family were driving home to Sugar Land last summer when they found themselves in the midst of a dust storm outside Vernon in northwest Texas. Traffic on U.S. Highway 287 was stopped and range of vision was limited.
As a small church van pulled over to wait out the storm, the Wallace family saw an 18-wheeler slam into the back of it, pushing the van through a barbed wire fence and into a field. Wallace and his mother, Bailey, yelled to his father, Bo, to pull over so they could help.
Inside the van were a pastor, his wife, three of his grown children and his baby granddaughter, some of whom had been injured in the crash.
“It was completely slammed and there were still people in it and there was one guy who was crying on the side of the van,” Tyler said. “I jumped up from my seat, got to the door of my RV, almost jumped out before the vehicle pulled to a stop; yelling at my mom to get the first aid bag.
“I didn’t feel panic,” he added. “I only saw I had a mission to do. I couldn’t focus on anything other than this mission to help. It was like tunnel vision – it was the only thing happening in my world right now.”
The Wallaces’ quick decision to lend a hand helped the family of five strangers survive the accident. The selfless act by Tyler, a junior at Dulles High School, earned him one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on a student enrolled in the nationwide Air Force Junior ROTC (AFJROTC) program.
He recently became the first Dulles JROTC cadet to receive the Silver Valor Award, which is given for voluntary acts of heroism.
“It is no surprise that he received the Silver Valor Award,” Dulles assistant principal Corey Steward said. “Tyler is a model student and displays outstanding leadership qualities.”
According to its website, the mission of the Air Force JROTC is to “develop citizens of character dedicated to serving their nation and community” and the Air Force core values of “integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.” The program focuses on classroom education in both air and space fundamentals as well as hands-on learning in the field of aviation.
With the program’s core values in mind, Tyler Wallace and his mom grabbed their first-aid kit, climbed through the barbed wire and ran to the van. Tyler discovered the pastor’s wife had shattered her arm, so he immediately made a splint.
The pastor’s son said he couldn’t feel his arms or legs, so the 6-foot-3 Tyler crawled into the wrecked van and held the man’s head stable as another bystander stopped to help.
Eventually there were more good Samaritans and someone called 9-1-1. As Tyler talked to each of them and kept them calm, he waited for an EMS team. One of the victims had facial injuries and two appeared to have injured their backs. The baby sitting in the back seat along with her mother appeared to be uninjured.
While the dust storm continued, Tyler and his family had little visibility as they tried to get injured family members to where they could be safely brought to an ambulance. Road travelers were having difficulty seeing them, and those stopped on the side of the road were breathing through wet rags since the air was filled with dust and causing choking hazards.
As they waited for an ambulance to take the injured family members to the nearest hospital, Tyler crawled into the back of the van to retrieve what he could, including phones, glasses and a diaper bag.
Throughout the almost 45-minute ordeal, after helping the crash victims as best he could with their physical injuries, keeping them from going into shock and reassuring them was most important to Tyler.
“My mom and I got face-to-face with each passenger – hugging them, telling them that it was all going to be OK. They are alive, it will be OK,’ ” Tyler said.
Only when the injured family members were loaded into the ambulance did the Wallace family stop to consider what they had done.
“He made me so proud,” Bailey Wallace said of Tyler. “You know your kids are pretty amazing, but sometimes they go so far above and beyond. I was so impressed with Tyler’s behavior; his calmness as he calmed others, cleaning them up, holding them still. This is one of those moments when I realized what a great man and son Tyler is.”
Instructors and faculty at Dulles who know Tyler were not surprised by his heroism. While his natural ability to lead is part of his personality, instructors say, the JROTC program at Dulles offers unique opportunities for students by helping to build confidence and develop strong leadership skills.
Air Force MSgt. Patrick Hardy and Maj. Doug Hawn, who are aerospace science instructors at Dulles, said the cadet is known for putting himself out there to help people.
“Tyler has always been so inquisitive and motivated,” Hawn said. “Most of his activities involve community service programs we work with such as Wings over Houston, The Exchange Club and the Oyster Creek Rotary Club.”
Military and aviation is a tradition for the Wallace family. A family member who inspires Tyler most is his grandfather, who was a pilot. A great grandfather and a great uncle fought during World War II, and his great grandmother was part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots organization during World War II.
So what’s in store for Tyler? Medical school? Military academy? Enlistment?
“My dream is to join ROTC at college and commission into the USAF as a fighter pilot,” he said.
For more information about AFJROTC, go to https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Holm-Center/AFJROTC/