Brave rescue in Pakistan
DEERFIELD — May 20, 2011, in Peshawar, Pakistan, started out the same as every other day for Christopher Bilodeau, who was serving there as a special agent with the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service.
The 39-year-old father of a young daughter and son, who were back in the States with their mother at the time, got in a car on that hot summer day with three other agents, left the secure residential area where they were living, and headed to work.
“It was less than two minutes after we left at about 8:30 that I heard a really loud explosion,” said Bilodeau during a phone interview from the Washington, D.C., area on Thursday. “Then, there was a giant cloud of dust. We couldn’t see anything at first.”
Bilodeau said the dust cleared quickly, and that’s when he realized a car bomb had gone off just as the car in front of his had passed it.
“There were two other agents in that car, who were also going to work,” said Bilodeau.
“You train and train for years for something like this, but nothing prepares you completely,” he said. “What you know, is that your Number One enemy is the car bomb. That’s the reality of the place.”
Bilodeau said his car drove through the bomb site, but he soon realized that the car in front of them had gone into a ditch and hit a tree after the bomb exploded.
“We stopped our car and went back,” said Bilodeau. “We got out of our armored car to help the other two agents.”
Bilodeau said opening the door to his car and stepping out into the unknown was a huge moment for him and the agents with him.
“You’re leaving the safety of your armored car and you don’t know what’s out there,” he said.
Bilodeau said he soon learned the blast was extensive and there was heavy damage to the other car.
“We wrestled with the doors to get the guys out,” he said. “They were shaken up, but we got them back to our car and we all piled in. We quickly closed the doors and got out of there.”
Bilodeau said his training back in the states as a paramedic kicked in and he immediately assessed his colleagues’ injuries.
“You don’t think about what’s happening at the time,” he said. “You just fall back on your training and do what you have to do.”
Bilodeau, who was in Pakistan for a year, said he had always had plenty of contact with his wife, Sam, during his stay in Pakistan. He said they would talk on their cell phones, Skype, and he would email her, his children, and his father often.
“Later on that day, my first call was to Sam,” he said. “It was early in the morning for her, so she didn’t answer and I had to leave her a message. I told her there was an incident, but I was fine.”
Bilodeau said his next call was to his father Douglas Bilodeau, who owns Douglas Auctioneers in South Deerfield.
“I wanted to get to him before he saw the morning news,” he said. “He always watches international news.”
“I do remember that once I had a chance later that day to think about what had happened, all I could think was that I was a long, long way from home,” he said.
Bilodeau grew up in Deerfield and graduated from Frontier Regional School in 1991. He attended Greenfield Community College and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Western New England College.
A former Deerfield police officer, he left the force in 2008 to become a U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service special agent.
“When I was serving as a police officer, I was looking for a broader career path,” said Bilodeau. “I was at a training class in New Hampshire when I met a police officer from New York City who talked with me about DSS.”
Bilodeau said he had no idea what DSS agents did, so he went home and looked it up on the Internet.
“It seemed like it was something I’d like to do, so I started taking classes,” he said. “It took me a couple of years to finish them. Then, I applied.”
Bilodeau said he started basic training shortly after.
“We would train with scenarios like the one in Pakistan,” he said. “We’d do them over and over. We trained for high-threat areas.”
Bilodeau said he was able to react the way he did, because he was given specialty training.
“They gave us the training we’d need to function and perform in this type of situation,” he said. “It was a pretty extensive program. This isn’t a glamorous job. It’s pretty down and dirty.”
Award for heroism
Bilodeau, along with the three other agents traveling in his car that day, received the Award for Heroism from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for his courageous actions during the terrorist attack on his motorcade.
Bill Miller, deputy assistant secretary for high-threat posts in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, said Bilodeau and the others performed masterfully in one of the most significant terrorist attacks against Foreign Service personnel in recent years.
“I am humbled to be recognized for what happened that day,” said Bilodeau. “We had to take care of each other; that was our job and that’s what we did.”
Bilodeau said he will be back in Franklin County to visit his family and friends in a couple of weeks. He currently works and lives with his wife and children in the Washington, D.C., area.