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20 years later: Remembering the attack on Khobar Towers

Alfredo Guerrero, a staff sergeant at the time, wasn’t supposed to be on top of Bldg. 131 in the Khobar Towers complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on the night of June 25, 1996. But as the acting flight sergeant for the military police unit, he was checking on the Airmen who were assigned to sentry posts.<br /> <br /> Most of the Airmen in the building were assigned to the 4404th Wing (Provisional), and were in Saudi Arabia supporting Operation Southern Watch.<br /> <br /> It was a time before the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant became a threat. In 1996, Hezbollah and Iran targeted Americans. <br /> <br /> That night Guerrero arrived on the rooftop around 10 p.m., as he watched a large gas truck, followed by a car, make its way to the building he was on.<br /> <br /> That same car and truck was also spotted by then-1st Lt. Michael Harner, who was inside the building beside Guerrero. Harner, who had only been on station for several days, had just returned to his room, opened a sliding glass door and stepped out onto his balcony. Before the truck made its way to Guerrero’s building, Harner noticed it parked in a parking lot next to a mosque that was under construction. Days earlier, there had been no vehicle traffic through the parking lot.<br /> <br /> “I watched as it drove right in front of me, and the lights from the compound shone, so I could see the people in the truck, and there was actually a vehicle following the truck,” Harner said. “I thought that was very unusual to see that, and I didn’t know quite what to do about it, (because) nobody’s shooting or nobody’s doing anything.”<br /> <br /> The truck then parked beside Guererro’s building. Two men got out and hurried into the car, which sped off. At that moment, it clicked for Guerrero that this wasn’t normal and something bad was about to happen.<br /> <br /> “I got on the radio and called the control center to tell them what was going on, and, before I finished my first transmission, I thought about the people in the building and realized, ‘Well, if this is what I think it is, this building is going down,’” Guerrero said. “And so, before I finished my first transmission, I told them I was beginning to evacuate the building.” <br /> <br /> The Airman with Guerrero overheard his radio transmissions and rushed into the building to begin evacuating. Guerrero got the attention of another Airman on the other side of the building and the two of them also began evacuating the eight-story building. <br /> <br /> <strong>The explosion</strong><br /> <br /> Guerrero only made it down a few floors before the blast went off. <br /> <br /> “I was fortunate enough to be behind an interior wall and so most of the overpressure from the bomb went right behind me. So, I was kind of in a protected area,” he said. “It just spun me around; it didn’t knock me down or anything.”<br /> <br /> Not all were that lucky. The explosion killed 19 Airmen and injured more than 350 service members and civilians. It was so powerful that all of the windows in a 2-mile radius were blown out.<br /> <br /> Sitting near the balcony door in the dorm’s common room, Harner recalled seeing a flash of light before the door was blown apart.<br /> <br /> “I ate that sliding glass door,” Harner said, as he described how the glass shredded his face, shoulder, arm and leg. <br /> <br /> Both towers were dark. As Harner tried to feel his way around his dorm, he made his way back into his bedroom. He remembered yelling out of the hole in the wall where his window once was, “Is there anybody out there?<br /> <br /> “It was dead silence,” he said. “And it was probably one of the most eerie feelings I have ever had in my entire life.”<br /> <br /> Over in Guerrero’s building, an entire side of the building had completely collapsed. <br /> <br /> “The next thing I knew, everything was pitch black. I couldn’t hear anything or see anything,” he said. <br /> <br /> After he collected himself and was aware of where he was, Guerrero immediately began assisting the injured. After helping an Airman down the stairs and out of the building, he headed back inside to the second floor. It was there he saw a few Airmen lying motionless under some rubble. <br /> <br /> “Everything was kind of blurry and surreal,” he said.<br /> <br /> Soon after, his leadership arrived. He briefed them on what he had experienced and was sent away to get checked out and cleaned up. <br /> <br /> <strong>‘Life left his body’</strong><br /> <br /> Right before the explosion, then-Staff Sgt. Selena Zuhoski was watching a movie in the recreation building with fellow Airmen. <br /> <br /> “I remembered the lights flickered, and then I heard a deep ‘boom.’ And then I remember … dust billowing in,” she said.<br /> Zuhoski would later learn that she had been knocked unconscious. <br /> <br /> As she regained consciousness, she and a group of people headed outside, where they saw a mushroom cloud around the site of the explosion. When they headed toward the damaged building, she said she saw people coming over the fence. Her first thought was that they were under attack.<br /> <br /> The people hopping the fence were locals, coming to help.<br /> <br /> After reaching the building, Zuhoski heard “there’s a guy dying on the fourth floor. He’s going into shock.” With a flashlight in hand, she and others headed upstairs. <br /> <br /> “There was a man there in a puddle of blood and there was a door that had been blown off its hinges,” she recalled.<br /> <br /> The group utilized the door as a makeshift gurney and carefully loaded the injured man onto it and carried him downstairs and outside, where they put him on a table until paramedics arrived. <br /> <br /> As the group headed back into the building, Zuhoski waited with the man until more help arrived.<br /> <br /> “I held his hand and I was covering this wound on his chest,” she said. “I was saying, you know, ‘Hold on, it’s gonna be OK.’ His hand was really cold and he was saying ‘Oh, God. Oh, God.’ And I said ‘Please. Please hold on.’ And then … I could tell the instant that the life left his body.”<br /> <br /> Paramedics arrived and took the man away, loading him onto a bus. Zuhoksi then went back into the building to help more victims. <br /> <br /> <strong>Post-traumatic stress</strong><br /> <br /> Harner, who at the time was a pavements engineer for the 4404th WG, suffered deep wounds from broken glass, along with PTSD. After being transported to a local hospital, they cleaned him up and packed him full of gauze, concerned that sewing him up with glass left inside of his body could lead to infection. <br /> <br /> Harner, who was deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, was medically evacuated the next day to Germany, where he spent two days before being sent back stateside.<br /> <br /> He would go on to receive the Purple Heart, and for the next decade, shards of glass would continue to work their way out of his body. <br /> <br /> Harner, now a colonel, serves as the associate director of civil engineers at the Pentagon. <br /> <br /> Along with him and others, Zuhoski also suffered from PTSD.<br /> <br /> “I probably didn’t even realize the impact that this would have on me as far as being like a lifelong … traumatic event,” she said. “I thought that … it would eventually fade, but it hasn’t. It’s gotten worse. I have nightmares, I have guilt. (I) wish I would have been able to do more.”<br /> <br /> With the support of her husband, Zuhoski said she’s been able to use art as an outlet. Her husband set up a studio for her in their home about a year ago. “It’s really been therapeutic for me,” she said. <br /> <br /> Zuhoski said talking openly to others who experienced the same tragedy has also helped.<br /> <br /> With every tragedy, policies, procedures and ways of thinking are updated to help prevent another one.<br /> <br /> Guerrero, now the anti-terrorism program manager at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, said one point he hits hard on when giving anti-terrorism briefings is to know the enemy.<br /> <br /> “You have to know who you’re dealing with and how far they’re willing to go, what types of targets they’re looking for,” he said. <br /> <br /> He said there are no front lines anymore, and it’s everybody’s responsibility to be vigilant.<br /> <br /> “I think we’ve come a long way for protecting our folks. We’re teaching other countries how to do it,” Guerrero said. “My hope is that we’ve learned enough on where we can stop the next one, and so that’s what scares me -- the next one. What is the next one and how far are they willing to go.”

Air Force announces KC-46A candidate bases

Air Force officials announced fives bases as candidates for the next round of active duty-led KC-46A Pegasus basing on June 23.<br /><br />The bases include Dover Air Force Base, Delaware; Fairchild AFB, Washington; Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota; Travis AFB, California; and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.<br /><br />The KC-46As are expected to begin arriving at the second active duty-led global mobility wing in fiscal year 2020.<br /><br />“The KC-46A Pegasus aerial tanker remains one of our top acquisition priorities,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “It is absolutely essential that we replace our aging tanker fleet so we have the aircraft necessary to maintain the nation’s global reach for years to come.”<br /><br />Air Mobility Command will soon conduct detailed, on-the-ground site surveys of each candidate base in approved assessment areas. They will assess each location against operational requirements, potential impacts to existing missions, housing, infrastructure and manpower.<br /><br />Additionally, AMC will develop cost estimates to bed down the KC-46A for each candidate base. Once the site surveys are completed, the results will be briefed to Air Force leadership who will select preferred and reasonable alternatives for the operating location. The Air Force plans to announce the second active duty-led KC-46A preferred alternative by the end of 2016.<br /><br />"Bringing the KC-46A online is a critical first step in recapitalizing a tanker fleet that has been at the heart of global response for more than five decades," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. "This great new aircraft will achieve better mission-capable rates, suffer less maintenance downtime, and improve the U.S. military's ability to respond rapidly to humanitarian crises and contingency operations around the world.”<br /><br />The Air Force also stressed the importance of its strategic basing process in creating deliberate, repeatable and standardized decisions.<br /><br />“In this process, the Air Force uses criteria-based analysis and military judgment,” said Jennifer Miller, the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations. “We look forward to the next phase of the process when the preferred alternative is announced and our candidate base communities have an opportunity to participate by providing input for the environmental analysis.”<br /><br />The KC-46A will provide improved capability, including boom and drogue refueling on the same sortie, worldwide navigation and communication, airlift capability on the entire main deck floor, receiver air refueling, improved force protection and survivability, and multipoint air refueling capability.

ACC: F-35 on track for IOC

The F-35A Lightning II is on track to declare initial operational capability between August and December.<br /> <br /> IOC is the first step Air Combat Command will take in bringing the F-35 online as the latest fifth-generation multirole fighter. In IOC configuration, the aircraft will be able to penetrate areas with developed air defenses, provide close air support to ground troops and be readily deployable to conflict theaters.<br /> <br /> Col. David Chace is the F-35 systems management office chief and lead for F-35 operational requirements at ACC. He leads a multi-discipline team of maintenance professionals, program managers, operators and engineers, not only with the responsibility for F-35 requirements, but also weapons systems fielding.<br /> <br /> Below is a recent Q&A with Chace that outlines where ACC is in the IOC process.<br /> <strong><br /> What is the process for becoming IOC?<br /> </strong><br /> There are a number of criteria that must be met in terms of capabilities and performance to become IOC. The requirements, established in 2013, include 12-24 aircraft with trained and equipped Airmen for basic close air support, interdiction and limited (suppression of enemy air defenses/destruction of enemy air defenses) in a contested environment and operating from a deployed location. To support those operations we need the proper logistics and operational elements in place, including having the proper personnel, equipment and appropriate technical manuals.<br /> <br /> <strong>Do you think you will reach IOC with just 12 F-35 aircraft?<br /> </strong><br /> The forecast is that we will have more than 12 aircraft. There are currently 12 aircraft available at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Some of those are going through the last few modifications required to support IOC. We will have additional aircraft in the modification process beginning in August. Depending on the actual IOC date, modifications may be complete on the additional F-35s. <br /> <br /> <strong>Who decides when the F-35 is IOC?<br /> </strong><br /> The commander of Air Combat Command will make the IOC decision in direct consultation with the chief of staff of the Air Force. It is a capabilities-based decision, with input received from units assigned to operational testing and evaluation at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, and Nellis AFB, Nevada, and Edwards AFB, California.<br /> <br /> <strong>Where is the F-35 in the IOC timeline?<br /> </strong><br /> Since beginning this process over five years ago with the first F-35s on the ground, we are in the final stages of IOC. These steps focus on training and equipping our personnel. There are no known technical issues today that would prevent us from reaching IOC in our August-December timeframe. The F-35 recently deployed from Hill to Mountain Home where crews, maintenance and support personnel conducted a number of missions. During that deployment, crews attained a 100 percent sortie generation rate with 88 of 88 planned sorties and a 94 percent hit rate with 15 of 16 bombs on target.<br /> These numbers provide a positive indication of where we are when it comes to stability and component performance.<br /> <br /> Feedback from the events at Mountain Home will feed into the overall evaluation of F-35 capabilities. The second evaluation will take place in the operational test environment with F-35 mission sets the Air Force intends to execute after IOC. All reports will be delivered in July and feed into the overall F-35 capabilities report. The ultimate goal is to provide a needed capability to the warfighter to execute the mission. It is not calendar-based or event-based.<br /> <br /> <strong>What has the feedback been from the field so far?<br /> </strong><br /> The feedback from unit operators in place today has been very positive for the F-35, not just concerning performance but the ability the aircraft has with other platforms. In particular at Hill, integration with the F-15E (Strike Eagle) has gone very well. We’ve also been demonstrating the ability to put bombs on target. All of that information will be provided to us in the formal IOC readiness assessments.<br /> <br /> <strong>What are some of the key metrics you’re hoping to see out of the deployment to Mountain Home?</strong><br /> <br /> We’re looking for the ability to deliver combat power and the instruments that go into supporting that, such as aircraft stability and the capability to generate sorties. We’re also looking for feedback on the functionality of (the Autonomic Logistics Interface System) to support that sortie generation.<em><br /> </em> <br /> <strong>What weapons capability will the F-35 have achieved at IOC?<br /> </strong><br /> The F-35, a fifth-generation aircraft, is a survival platform that can detect, track and engage targets in a contested environment. At the time we declare IOC we will focus on three mission sets that will concentration on the number and type of weapons the aircraft can carry. Those weapons include two GBU-31s and two GBU-12s (guided bomb units), or two (advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles).<br /> <br /> <strong>Is this aircraft capable of deploying to Iraq or Syria to battle the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant like the F-22 Raptor did?<br /> </strong><br /> After IOC, it will be available to support the needs of the combatant commanders.<br /> <br /> <strong>How soon the F-35 will be deployed to overseas locations?<br /> </strong><br /> There are a number of events being considered for the F-35, to include training exercises and deployments. These events are being assessed and planned for through the needs of the combatant commanders.<br /> <br /> <strong>After IOC is declared, what are the next steps for the F-35?<br /> </strong><br /> It’s a constantly evolving responsibility working hand-in-hand with our sister services and partners in development. We are actively engaged in the other activities taking place to field the F-35, such as system upgrades, such as Block 3F for full warfighter capability and future basing locations. Additional squadrons are planned for Hill as well as at Luke AFB (in Arizona) with seven of the partner nations, Eielson AFB, Alaska, and locations in Europe and the Pacific. The entry of the F-35 into Air National Guard units will take place in Burlington, Vermont, and the first F-35 weapons school class at Nellis AFB is also being projected on the timeline. We also continue to evaluate the future threat environment and how the F-35 must adapt to remain survivable against those threats. Right now we’re looking at delivering the first increment of modernization to the F-35 in late 2020 or early 2021.

Warrior Games end with a bang

After a week of intense international competition, the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games drew to a close June 21 with a medal ceremony and concert, followed by fireworks.

Warrior Games conclude with medal ceremony, concert

After a week of intense international competition, the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games drew to a close June 21 with a medal ceremony and concert, followed by fireworks.

African Partnership Flight Kenya kicks off

The first African Partnership Flight in Kenya officially began its mission following opening ceremonies at Laikipia Air Base June 21.

Kenyan, Ugandan troops learn combat rescue tactics from Airmen

The first African Partnership Flight in Kenya officially began its mission following opening ceremonies at Laikipia Air Base June 21.

Airman earns ‘Ultimate Champion’ title at Warrior Games

Medically retired Master Sgt. Reese Hines earned the “Ultimate Champion” title and bragging rights at the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.

Archers compete in first visual impairment category at Warrior Games

Wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans continue to break personal records and show fans and friends amazing feats and June 17 was no different, as archers competed in the first-ever visual impairment category at the 2016 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the U.S. Military Academy.

AF Week in Photos

This week's photos feature Airmen from around the globe involved in activities supporting expeditionary operations and defending America. This weekly feature showcases the men and women of the Air Force.