As we look back and reflect on the attack at Khobar Towers 20 years ago, I want to share a small look into the work life of one of the victims, Airman 1st Class Brian McVeigh.
Brian and I have lot in common. I too was an F-15 Eagle crew chief. We’re often called “Eagle Keepers” and we stand out in a crowd with our dirty boots, oil-stained hands, the pungent smell of jet fuel coming from us and our gruff demeanor. We take great pride in our job — crew chiefs are some of the toughest, smartest, thickest-skinned, hardest-working and proudest individuals of anyone who calls themselves Airman.
My first assignment was at Eglin Air Force Base with the Nomads of the 33rd Fighter Wing just seven years after Brian was there. The jets we had were battle hardened, some still had desert sand inside the cockpit. It was there that I developed a strong sense of pride in the eagle and shared work on the jets Brian maintained. I saw the deep history of the Nomads as I worked long hours maintaining the aircraft and walking the grounds of the wing. Not much sticks out about the grounds of the wing, but the Nomad Memorial to the Khobar Towers’ victims does.
Every year the Nomads hold a memorial service in honor of the 19 Airmen who lost their lives in the bombing at Khobar Towers. As a young Airman the weight of their sacrifice took some time to sink in. It was not until my first deployment to Iraq that I gained an understanding of it: the dedication, the Nomad pride. You see, when we deploy the shifts don’t end when the clock hits 12 hours. We proudly worked well past the duty day to keep our Eagles battle-ready for their around-the-clock mission. Our enemies seldom stopped, so neither did we.
In my mind’s eye, I can see Brian standing in front of his aircraft, one that was probably many years older than he was. I can see him crouched in front of the nose, walking around the wings, doing final checks to launch it out on another mission to sustain air superiority. It gives me chills to know I followed in his footsteps and pride to know I carry his legacy on.
Brian was a Nomad; he was a hard and dedicated worker. His pride was rooted in his job and it’s that way for all of us. Especially when we take the fight to the enemy like Brian did. There’s something about putting that much metal into the air fully-loaded with munitions and seeing it come back empty. That’s all the motivation that a crew chief needs to get back at it the next day.
A few years ago an Air Force retiree told me to avoid the three C’s when signing up for service — cops, cooks, and crew chiefs. Of course, at this time, I had already staked my claim as a crew chief on one of the greatest airframes known to man at the time, the F-15 Eagle. He looked down at my dirty boots and asked me what I did in the Air Force. I chuckled and told him I was one of the three C’s. We laughed together as he told me he was, too. He had retired as a crew chief after 24 years. With a strong handshake and a pat on the back, he told me “don’t stop until you are the best crew chief on that flight line.” I didn’t. I am now part of the team that stood up the F-35 program for the DOD, a pretty humbling job.
It’s Airmen, crew chiefs and Nomads like Brian that keep me focused and driven. His sacrifice reminds us that freedom has a price. Brian reminds us, even 20 years later, young men and women are volunteering to go overseas and defend our nation and its allies. There is pride in the job that Brian and I share. I believe this dedication will stand here, years from now and inspire people as it inspires me today.
I mentioned the annual service the Nomads hold for our fallen brethren. It’s held at a memorial we built in honor of Brian and the 18 other Airmen who lost their lives. Brian has a quote under his picture that reads, “With the heart of a boy and the strength of two men, you embraced a life brand new. You were a loved one, a peer and a good friend. And we shall not forget you.”
Thank you for remembering our Nomads who have ceased their wandering. Never forget the price they paid.