Shedding Blood For My Country
(June 28, 2011)
|COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS - 6/24/2011) -- June 25 marks the 15th anniversary of one of the deadliest terrorist attacks on U.S. Airmen and coalition forces in Saudi Arabia. Most people remember or know the event as the "Khobar Towers bombing." |
Then 1st Lt. Mike Harner smiles for the camera in a hospital bed while recovering from injuries sustained in the bombing of Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, June 25, 1996. Lt. Col. Mike Harner is now the commander of the 14th Civil Engineering Squadron at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. (Courtesy photo)
| ||For me, this horrific act is an experience that will be forever etched in my mind and on my body. As I flash back to that time, I share with you my first-hand account of that devastating day when 19 Airmen were killed and more than 385 were injured. |
At the time, I was a 1st lieutenant stationed at my first duty assignment, Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. I had been selected to deploy for 90 days. I was filled with excitement but apprehensive of my first deployment. When I arrived in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on June 19, I was assigned to the 4404th Wing (Provisional) to work as a civil engineer in support of Operation Southern Watch. This was my first time in the Middle East and I never imagined that in six days, my life would almost come to an end.
The initial days in country were an indoctrination to the culture, climate and battle rhythm of the installation. The civil engineer squadron was physically located on the
|perimeter of the base, in building 131 where most engineers worked and resided. I arrived around midnight and was ushered from the flight line, which was five miles away, to the compound. A few hours later, about at 4:30 a.m., I awoke to morning Muslim prayers and looked out to realize the compound was adjacent to the city. One of the prominent landmarks was a huge mosque that was under construction about quarter mile away. The mosque's parking lot was finished but no cars were parked there. It was a little alarming to see my building only 65 feet from this off-base parking lot, but I tried to put it out of my mind.|
|Throughout the first couple days, to my knowledge, nothing suspicious had occurred. |
June 25 had been a typical day of 120 degree temperatures, so I waited to exercise until late evening, after work. The compound was a mile around the outside perimeter, so I went out with another engineer for a 3-mile run at 9:30 p.m. After I had finished, I went back to my room on the 7th floor. My roommates were still working out on the other side of the base, so I decided to do my cool down stretching on the small balcony outside our room.
At approximately 9:55 p.m., less than five minutes after I stepped onto the balcony, I saw truck and a car slowly pull into the parking lot. I thought this was odd so I watched as they drove past me and stopped at the next building. It was dark out, but I could see the truck back up to the curb next to the perimeter about one hundred yards away. Two men got out of the truck and left in the car.
There was no shooting, no crashing into the fence, nothing threatening while I stood there watching. However, something didn't feel right about the situation. I went inside and debated what to do next. I sat down to stretch some more in front of a sliding glass door. Within a minute or two, the loudest explosion I have ever heard went off. Praise God I had closed the curtains when I came inside, because I was sitting three feet from the plate glass door leading to the balcony. Still, glass from the door exploded into the room and into my body. The whole event only lasted approximately 15 seconds, but time stood still during the explosion.
After the explosion my first instinct was to get out, but I couldn't see due to the power outage from the explosion and blood running down my face. I felt my way down the walls of my room and yelled out of the blown out window for help. At the time no one responded which made me feel like I was the only survivor left. Because it was dark and I didn't have anyway to see my injuries, I sat down in a chair and started praying, "Lord, I don't know what to do, please help me!" At that instant, a peace came over me like I'd never felt before and I remember distinctly knowing it was going to be all right.
I reached into my clothes cabinet and found a t-shirt to try and stop the bleeding. I wrapped one shirt around my head to stop the blood running into my eyes. Then I reached down and realized my right leg had a huge hole in it, but I felt no pain so I completed the self-aid on my leg and other parts of my body.
After I got the bleeding under control I was able to see light from the city which allowed me to see a way out. I found the stairwell and heard voices from the floor above and called to them to come help me. The team above were explosive ordnance disposal technicians. They did a phenomenal job of assisting me, including ripping a door off its hinges and using it to carry me down seven flights of stairs.
More than 100 engineers were injured in the blast, but everyone assisted the most critical. With my extensive wounds, the team took me to the triage area that was set up outside the base clinic, where I spent over an hour on the tarmac with a medical attendant named Senior Airman Cindy Hartsfield. She became an instant friend and we still maintain contact to this day!
With such a small clinic, the medical staff did everything they could do, but the massive injuries from the explosion were overwhelming. They stabilized me with two IVs and a blanket, and Airman Hartsfield stayed with me the entire time while the medics continued to assess and treat the wounded as much as they were able.
After about an hour, Saudi ambulances started arriving at the compound and I was taken to the city's university hospital. I was the first to arrive from the compound and felt uneasy about being the only Airman there with no way to understand Arabic and no one escorting me. So again I prayed and asked God for peace and protection. He gave me more than I asked for: peace, protection and an English speaking doctor and staff. I was assured everything would be all right.
My wounds were severe enough that after two days in the Saudi hospital, I was medivaced with 41 other Airmen on a C-141 Starlifter to Landstuhl Army Medical Center, near Ramstein Air Base, Germany. I was blessed to have my wife, Julie, arrive just before me. We spent two days there then all the stabilized patients were transported on the same military plane to Eglin AFB, Fla., for the memorial service with then President Bill Clinton, then Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald Fogelman, then Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall and other senior Department of Defense members.
After the ceremony, Julie and I were transported back to Whiteman AFB for convalescent leave and rehabilitation. I was greeted with a wonderful base welcome as the only Airman from Whiteman to return immediately from the terrorist attack. After several months of recovery, General Hawley, the current commander of Air Combat Command, flew to Whiteman AFB to present four of us from the base with Purple Hearts.
On the anniversary of this day, I ask that each of us take a moment to reflect and pray for the families who lost loved ones during this horrific act as well as for those who endure the long-term effects of this atrocity. May we never forget those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our great nation.
|By USAF Lt. Col. Michael Harner|
14th Civil Engineer Squadron commander
Provided by Air Force News Service
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