FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (July 28, 2020) — Some days begin a little differently than most, and for Capt. Mary Bustamante, commander of Company C, 787th Military Police Battalion, June 30 definitely fit that description.
While on her drive to work that morning from her home in St. Robert, she stopped to help a toddler she found “lying face down in the middle of the road.”
“I saw this big truck coming down the hill in my neighborhood,” she said. “The truck started slowing down and I started slowing down. I look on the road and there’s a kid. He’s got a shirt and shorts on — no shoes; he’s about 2 years old.”
The truck stopped, but the driver hesitated to get out of his cab to help.
“I thought, ‘OK, well, he’s not doing anything,’ so I pulled over and decided I’m gonna grab this kid and get him to safety,” she said.
When she got out of her car, however, the child got up and started to run.
“The kid ran behind the truck,” she said. “I don’t know if he thought we were playing. It was kind of bizarre, because he wasn’t scared of me. When I got to him, he just immediately came into my arms. I walked him back to where I had my car — I thought maybe his parents were outside looking for him, but I didn’t see anybody.”
Bustamante said she asked the child where his parents were, but he was too young to communicate.
“I asked ‘Where’s mommy?’ but the kid can’t talk; he’s too young,” she said. “I started looking at his feet. He had a couple of scratches. He was a little cut up from the asphalt. He played in my car while I called the sheriff’s office.”
The Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office and Child Protective Services were dispatched to take Bustamante’s information, and EMTs also soon arrived to evaluate and assist the child. Bustamante then left while the responders made a door-to-door search for the child’s parents.
When she arrived a little late at work, Bustamante told the story to her first sergeant.
“I told her, and she shared it with the other cadre in the company,” Bustamante said.
The company executive officer put the details of that morning into the company’s bi-weekly report to the battalion, and that’s when the snowball of kudos began rolling.
“My battalion commander saw it, and he called me and thanked me,” she said. “BC talked to the brigade commander, and the brigade commander thanked me. With social media, it started catching on. It kind of trickled up, and then trickled back down.”
Within a couple of weeks, Bustamante found herself in the office of Brig. Gen. James Bonner, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general.
“He congratulated me; he said, ‘good work’ and that he’s honored to serve next to me,” she said.
Bonner gave her one of his MSCoE coins – which are traditionally given out in recognition of special achievement — as did Brig. Gen. Brian Bisacre, U.S. Army Military Police School commandant.
“We’re very proud of Mary Bustamante,” Bisacre said. “Her actions to stop and assist a toddler show her values and what a great, caring leader she is. That action absolutely made a huge impact for the safety of the child.”
Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, with many younger cousins, Bustamante — who’s been stationed at Fort Leonard Wood for about a year — said she would expect anyone to do what she did that morning.
“I feel like, in that situation, anyone would do that,” she said. “I just couldn’t imagine somebody seeing a 2-year-old kid in the middle of the road without shoes and not doing something to help. That’s how people should be. You should care about another human being’s life — it matters.”
Bustamante said she wishes all the best for the child and his family.
“I actually just called to see what the status of the kid was,” Bustamante said. “They located the mother somewhere in that subdivision.”
About Fort Leonard Wood
Fort Leonard Wood is a thriving and prosperous installation that has evolved from a small basic training post more than 75 years ago to a premier Army Center of Excellence that trains more than 80,000 military and civilians each year.
Fort Leonard Wood is home to the U.S Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and three U.S. Army schools: the U.S. Army Engineer School; U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School; and the U.S. Army Military Police School. In addition to training engineer, CBRN and military police specialties for the Army, Fort Leonard Wood also provides gender-integrated in-processing and Basic Combat Training for new Soldiers.
Fort Leonard Wood also hosts and trains with the largest Marine Corps Detachment and Air Force Squadron on any Army installation as well as a large Navy construction detachment.
More information about Fort Leonard Wood is at: https://home.army.mil/wood/index.php/about/mission