Alek Skarlatos must have thought the danger from Kalashnikov-wielding gunmen was behind him.

The young National Guard reservist wrapped up a tour of duty to Afghanistan in June and was in Europe to decompress for a month with friends, according to relatives.

He had spent 10 days in Germany before meeting up in Amsterdam with Spencer Stone, a friend from their shared childhood in California, earlier this week and boarding the train to France on Friday.

It was Mr Skarlatos who led his friends into action with a yell of "Get him" as he saw a gunman emerging from the train lavatory.

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"I just got back from Afghanistan last month, and this was my vacation from Afghanistan," said the 22-year-old in a matter-of-fact way after helping thwart an apparent terror attack.

His actions were exactly what relatives said they would expect from him.

Karen Skarlatos, his stepmother, said he was just the sort of man to put himself in danger to protect others.

"I've always said that I felt I could trust putting my life in Alek's hands," she told The Oregonian.

"I honestly can't say I'm surprised that he knew what to do when faced with that kind of situation. It's just who he is."

Spencer Stone (L). Photo / AFP
Spencer Stone (L). Photo / AFP

He grew up in the small Oregon city of Roseburg - know for its timber industry - after moving there from California with his father at the age of 13. He was a keen lacrosse player at school and joined the National Guard three years ago.

Maj Stephen Bomar, spokesman for the Oregon Military Departments, confirmed the American was a member of the Oregon National Guard's 41st Infantry Brigade Combat team.

"It's fantastic that no matter who it was, someone stepped up to stop such a horrific event. We're absolutely proud that it happened to be someone from the Oregon Army National Guard," he said.

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The Oregon soldiers were headquartered at Bagram air base, near Kabul, and their role was to provide security and force protection for international troops based in Afghanistan.

The role included protecting high-level officials from the United States, Great Britain and Australia as they travelled to meet local leaders, and they operated as part of a rapid response unit to bolster the Afghan National Army when needed.

Mr Skarlatos kept friends updated on Facebook with his plans for a European holiday once his deployment was finished, asking for recommendations and then posting pictures of his travels through Germany - eating bratwurst and wearing a traditional Alpine hat.

His father said he was proud of his son.

"It took bravery. It took instinct - just survival instinct," Emanuel Skarlatos told KATU News from his home in Roseburg. "They were willing to get shot to save everyone else."

British hero tells how he helped tackle gunman

Chris Norman. Photo / AP
Chris Norman. Photo / AP

The British rail passenger who helped to foil a terrorist attack on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris has described the moment he helped three other men tackled the gunman.

Confronted by Kalashnikov wielding terrorist on the high speed Amsterdam to Paris train Chris Norman's first instinct was to hide.

But the 62-year-old management consultant then made the brave calculation that he stood more chance of surviving if he stood up to the gunman.

The grandfather of two described the moment on Friday he helped three other men tackle the Moroccan terrorist, who had earlier boarded the train at Brussels.

Mr Norman helped US airman Spencer Stone and his friends Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler to wrestle the attacker to the ground, stopping what could have been a fatal attack.

Speaking outside Arras police station on Saturday, he said: "I was sitting working on my computer. I saw a man with a Kalashnikov. I said to myself, s***.

"I heard an American saying 'go get him', then someone else saying, 'no you don't do that'. Then I realised the only way to survive was go for him.

"My thought was I am going to die anyway so let's go. I'd rather die being active than sitting in the corner being shot. Once you start moving, you're not afraid anymore." under control.'

Describing the moment his fellow rail passengers tackled the terrorist Mr Norman said: "Spencer jumped up and tackled him and actually started getting the terrorist under control. I came in at the end of it all, and I guess just helped to get the guy under control at the end.

"He put up a bit of a fight but Spencer is a strong guy and he succeeded in overpowering him. I held down his arm, his left arm, so he couldn't get his gun. He was relatively thin and not that strong so I didn't have too much difficulty keeping him pinned down."

He added: "I think his (attacker's) gun jammed. We were incredibly lucky. The great thing is that everyone in the train managed to overpower him without anyone being killed."

Mr Norman lives in Nimes, in the south of France, where his wife Martine is looking after their two grand-children.

A British national, he was born in Uganda and attended the University of Cape Town, before going on to take a master's degree at Reading University and a diploma in accountancy at the then Polytechnic of Central London.

He has spent the past two decades working in France for firms such as Deloitte and Levi Strauff and had been returning from a business meeting in Holland, where he was working to help African entrepreneurs get financing in Europe, when the gunman launched his attack.

David Cameron praised Mr Norman and the other men for their bravery.

A No 10 spokesman said: "The Prime Minister praised the extraordinary courage of the passengers who intervened and helped disarm the gunman, including the British consultant Chris Norman."

Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, wrote on Twitter: "Grateful to those who stopped attack on French train, including Brit Chris Norman. UK stands beside France against all terrorist acts."

But Mr Norman, who has two children, one in the French Navy, brushed off talk of him being a hero, saying his first instinct had been to hide.

"I wasn't trained for this at all," he said. "I'm not a hero I just did what I could. All I want to do now is go home and spend time with my family."