Remembering the tragedy at Khobar Towers

Nineteen Airmen died and hundreds were injured in the terrorist attack at Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996.  The front of Bldg. 131 was blown off when a fuel truck parked nearby was detonated by terrorists.  (Courtesy photo)

Nineteen Airmen died and hundreds were injured in the terrorist attack at Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996. The front of Bldg. 131 was blown off when a fuel truck parked nearby was detonated by terrorists. (Courtesy photo)

Nineteen Airmen died and hundreds were injured in the terrorist attack at Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996. The front of Bldg. 131 was blown off when a fuel truck parked nearby was detonated by terrorists. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Sean Worrell)

Nineteen Airmen died and hundreds were injured in the terrorist attack at Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996. The front of Bldg. 131 was blown off when a fuel truck parked nearby was detonated by terrorists. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Sean Worrell)

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- For one Holloman civilian the 10th anniversary of the tragic Khobar Towers bombing brings back more than just memories.

"When I got off the airplane, I knew something wasn't right," said Mr. Daniel Salinas, 49th Fighter Wing safety office, recounting his arrival in Saudi Arabia. "And then 32 days after I arrived something happened."

On June 25, 1996, shortly before 10 p.m., a bomb tore apart the Khobar Towers near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 Air Force personnel and injuring some 300 other Americans.

It is believed that a group of terrorists who wanted to remove Americans from Saudi Arabia organized the attack on the housing complex along with help from Osama bin Laden. Reports of suspicious activity in the area of the Khobar Towers compound and an explosion in Bahrain that killed three people allowed the U.S. military to change the threat condition to Delta -- the highest level. However, nothing prepared anyone for what would happen.

The building attacked was an eight-story apartment used to house Air Force personnel
from the 4404th Wing, which was primarily made up of Airmen from a deployed rescue squadron and deployed fighter squadron.

Staff Sgt. Alfredo Guerrero, who is now stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., was on top of the building when he spotted an olive drab gas truck following a white car. The truck made its way to a parking lot adjacent to building #131 where a chain link security fence, a small line of trees and concrete barriers allowed the explosive-laden truck to come within 90 feet of the housing compound.

"At that point I knew that something pretty big was about to happen," he said.

Mr. Salinas, who was a staff sergeant at the time, was on the third floor balcony writing a letter to his family back home when the explosion rocked the building.

"I was blown into the bathroom and covered by debris," he said. "I had glass in my leg and head and some numbness in my leg. I credit self-aid and buddy care for saving my life."

Mr. Salinas said the whole scene following the blast was "crazy and choatic," but the professionalism of the Airmen saved lives.

The tanker truck, packed with an estimated 5,000 pounds of plastic explosives, blasted the concrete face off the building and left behind a crater 35 feet by 85 feet. Within hours the crater was partially filled with saltwater from the Persian Gulf, which was six miles away. The enormous blast was felt 20 miles away by people living in Bahrain.

The force of the explosion created a huge duststorm as the blast wave caused damage to vehicles parked near the building. These vehicles suffered no damage from the debris, but were heavily damaged by the shock wave.

There is now a memorial to the 19 Airmen killed in the terrorist bombing. The Khobar Towers Memorial exhibit opened in 1999 at Gunter Annex, near Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., on the third anniversary of the bombing.

After going through the explosion at Khobar Towers, Mr. Salinas, who has 23 years of service, still volunteers to deploy. He has done two as a civilian since his experience in Saudi Arabia and continues to heal from his physical and emotional wounds.

"The spirit in me allows me to volunteer to be deployed. It gives the opportunity to others to spend time with their families," he said. "My healing process is to talk about it. I was offered the Purple Heart and turned it down, but was talked into it later. I carry it around as my good luck charm and a reminder of the 19 people who died."