By Master Sgt. Turkessa L. Mike, 42nd Security Forces Squadron
/ Published May 08, 2014
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The news seems to be flooded with one horrific active shooter incident after another. Every time we hear of these tragedies, we ask ourselves why these incidents occur and what can be done to prevent them. As we try to make sense of these crimes, let's remain mindful that all active shooter incidents and the damage they cause can be mitigated or completely prevented. This takes effort from law enforcement and security personnel but, more importantly, you.
Active shooter incidents in the past have reminded us that the persons involved and the locations can vary greatly: Columbine High School in Colorado, Virginia Tech, the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the Washington Navy Yard and, for a second time, Fort Hood, all come to mind.
Many would conclude that this is a new phenomenon, but we've seen these scenarios play out through the years, and one took place on an Air Force base. As we approach the 20-year anniversary of the incident that took place at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., we should be reminded that if lessons aren't learned from these events and from the exercises we conduct to educate others, we'll be doomed to replay the past. That day, six lives were lost, including the shooter's life, and 22 others were wounded.
For those who do not recall the Fairchild incident, here is a summary.
Shooter joined AF in 1992
An Airman with mental health concerns joined the Air Force in 1992. He was identified in basic training as having mental health issues, but nothing was formally documented. These same circumstances played out as he entered and processed through his technical school training.
When he arrived at his first permanent duty station, Fairchild AFB, his roommate complained of his strange behavior and odd comments. For a third time, he was evaluated by mental health personnel and this time sent to a treatment facility, where he was recommended for discharge from the military.
The Airman filed an inspector general's complaint and was eventually returned to duty. He was then transferred to Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., and, while assigned, he was verbally reprimanded for an off-duty incident. For the fourth time, the Airman was sent to mental health personnel for an evaluation; an administrative discharge was recommended.
On May 23, 1994, the Airman was honorably discharged from the Air Force and provided a temporary ID card that entitled him to 60 days' worth of medical benefits and two years' worth of BX/commissary privileges. On June 15, 1994, the Airman returned to the Spokane, Wash., area, and contacted an Airman still assigned to Fairchild AFB about purchasing a weapon. He was referred to a dealer, where he legally purchased a MAK-90 semiautomatic rifle, three 5-round magazines and a 75-round drum magazine for the weapon.
Revenge against doctors
At approximately 2:45 p.m. on June 20, 1994, the Airman was dropped off by taxi at the main entrance of the Fairchild hospital. He carried a black and gray bag with a white Styrofoam case protruding from it. Fully aware of the layout of the facility, he left the main building and went to the hospital annex, where he stopped in a restroom to assemble the weapon.
With a fully exposed weapon, he made his way to the office of one of the doctors he felt was responsible for his discharge from the military. He stepped into his office and fired one shot, killing him. The doctor was with a female patient whom he did not shoot. Leaving the room, he proceeded up the hall to another doctor's office, again opening the door and killing another doctor. After killing the doctors, he made his way out of the building, across the parking lot, and back to into the main facility, where he began firing randomly at the people in the lobby.
He attempted to enter the immunization clinic but was locked out. He made his way to the family practice clinic, where he continued to fire random shots at victims. The Airman retraced his steps back through the hallways of wounded victims, made his way outside the facility, and continued to fire random shots at personnel.
911 calls flooded the security forces law enforcement desk, and patrols, scattered across the installation, began to respond to the incident. A security forces member on bike patrol near the hospital was able to respond. Upon arrival, Senior Airman Andrew Brown met the shooter in the parking lot, where he leaped from his bicycle and drew his M-9 pistol, ordering the shooter to drop his weapon. The shooter initially had his back toward Brown, ignoring the orders, but then turned toward Brown and fired. Brown was not hit and began to return fire from more than 70 yards away. Firing only two shots,
Brown struck the shooter in the left shoulder and head, killing him.
I personally remember this event. I remember watching the report on television and, four months after the incident, I entered the Air Force. I am a security forces member and, while attending tech school, this incident was all every combat arms instructor and tech school instructor spoke of every time we went to the range and during every discussion about use of force. There was no official active shooter response as we know it today; however, this event sparked a change across the Air Force in how we train for and respond to these incidents.
Similarities in shootings
Nearly all documented active shooter incidents share common threads. The perpetrators became falsely self-aware that only through a series of violent acts can the circumstances that torment them come to an end. They also researched and planned their attacks methodically, often leaving detailed plans in the wake of events. These steps are called the "path of intended violence," and each step was accompanied with behavior traits and actions that were observed daily.
Obvious red flags preceded the Fairchild shootings. The official Air Force Office of Special Investigations report provides many details I did not mention that were significant indicators the Airman should have never made it through MEPS. There were people who ignored what was going on around them, most likely laughing and talking about him behind his back, when they should have been reporting the behavior to co-workers and the chain of command.
So, what is your role in interrupting the path of violence? First, thinking "this is not my problem and not my concern" is to throw away every lesson learned from these incidents. It has been proven that violence can be interrupted and the threat of an attack diminished or eliminated if everyone works together to create a safe and secure work environment. As co-workers, supervisors and commanders, it is our responsibility to interact with our total force Airmen and identify behaviors that are out of place. Failure to do so can end in deadly consequences that will affect you and your organization as well as impact our mission.
For more information, call or email the installation antiterrorism program manager at 953-9595 or firstname.lastname@example.org.