SOUTHWEST ASIA ― The two Airmen looked at each other — searching for the words to say, searching for the strength to face the memories that come with unexpected noises at nightfall. Each found comfort in the presence of another who was there, who understood.
On March 2 at Frankfurt International Airport, a gunman opened fire on a bus transporting Airmen to Ramstein, en route to a deployment in Afghanistan.
Of the 16 Airmen aboard the bus, two were killed: Airman 1st Class Zachary R. Cuddeback, the bus driver, and Senior Airman Nicholas J. Alden, a security forces member. Senior Airman Edgar Veguilla and Staff Sgt. Kris Schneider were seriously wounded in the attack.
Just a little more than two months after feeling helpless and facing death on that bus, two security forces Airmen got what they’d wished for — a deployment.
Senior Airman Charles Anderson-Goodman and Airman 1st Class Reginald Golliday are currently providing base security in Southwest Asia. Their story is far more than what happened in a few horrifying moments in Frankfurt. It’s a story of family, service, support and resiliency.
Four families have been permanently affected by the unspeakable loss of two young Airmen and the wounding of two more. But from this tragedy, a new family has arisen — a family bonded by an indomitable spirit, sustained by the Air Force’s support and care network, and motivated to honor the memory of brothers taken that fateful day.
“Actually, when the guy started shooting, my first instinct wasn’t to go provide help because I didn’t know who was shot,” Golliday said. “My first instinct was to jump up and try to chase after the (suspect, Arid Uka). But when I jumped off the bus, that’s when I saw Senior Airman Alden on the ground and I just — I lost it. I didn’t know what to do. Only because of Anderson-Goodman and (Airman 1st Class Andrew) Gibson bringing me back to and telling me we had to provide (self-aid and buddy care), that’s when we grabbed Senior Airman Veguilla off the bus, put him on the ground and searched for his wounds.”
Several Airmen chased after the gunman. All the Airmen left on the bus sprung into action and provided care for the two who were wounded until they were relieved by German medics.
“It was automatic,” Anderson-Goodman said of the care he, Airman 1st Class Kevin Worthington and others provided to Schneider. “The SABC training just kicked in, and I thought, ‘Stop the bleeding’ and pulled off my shirt and wrapped it around Schneider’s head.”
While discussing the incident, each man emphasized by name the contributions of other security forces members in helping apprehend their assailant and care for the two wounded members.
“It was not just us,” Anderson-Goodman said. “Everyone stepped up.”
Thanks in part to the training and quick response of the Airmen and the German medics, Schneider and Veguilla both survived their gunshot wounds and continue to recover today.
After the Attack
After filling out police statements while still at the airport, the remaining Airmen were taken to Ramstein, where they stayed at the deployment transition center for about a week. Master Sgt. Max Van Ausdal, a member of the 48th Security Forces Squadron (the Airmen’s home unit), flew in and stayed with them in Germany and helped see to their needs.
The DTC, which consists of four-bedroom villas, each with a common area, turned out to be far preferable to individual lodging rooms for the Airmen.
“It was nice because, actually, we didn’t want to be alone that night,” Golliday said. “They took really good care of us.”
“They gave us clothes, from our socks to our shirts. They provided food to us that we didn’t have to pay for — the dining facility stayed open late for us,” Anderson-Goodman said. “They had games and cable (television) available for us.”
During the stay, many professionals offered their services. Chaplains, mental health providers and key leaders were all noteworthy during the early days of the recovery, both Airmen said. Particularly helpful, they said, was the fact that they were not pressured or rushed to talk, but simply supported in every possible way by all they encountered.
One memory that brought a smile to both of their faces was of a place very few junior Airmen ever expect to find themselves: having dinner in the home of a four-star general.
“General Welsh actually invited us over for steaks,” Golliday said, referring to Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander. “And while we were there for steaks, right after we said the prayer, Sergeant Schneider actually came out of his coma. And we talked to his wife on Skype, and we could hear him in the background. The first thing that came out of his mouth was, ‘I want a cheeseburger. I lost too much weight!” Golliday said with a laugh.
Following their week in Germany, the team flew back on a special military flight to their home station of Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.
“Everyone was there to greet us,” Golliday said. “The commanders, even the base commander, Col. (John) Quintas, rode in the vans with us from the airport to the base. All of this made us feel appreciated and loved. It was nice. At first, our big thing was we didn’t want anything big — just fly in, hopefully nobody would see us and just give us time. But it actually helped the way it turned out.”
More care followed during the ensuing weeks, with numerous appointments and opportunities to talk about what happened — and at the convenience of the members so they could talk about things when they were ready.
Eventually, the first day back on duty came, but it was duty without being armed up.
“We were on a non-arming roster and went to work back at the squadron for a day. But we pushed it that day that we wanted to arm up and get back to work,” Anderson-Goodman said.
After review, the Airmen’s request to return to full duty was granted. But that was not all they had in mind.
Back in the Fight
“When we first got back, the first thing was, ‘Send us out again,’ even before we met General Welsh,” Golliday said. “Most of us were ready and willing. We just made sure (our unit deployment manager) knew to put our names in the hat.”
As fate would have it, the call came quickly.
Two individuals slated to deploy to Southwest Asia from other bases were unable to go, leaving a vacancy, or as the two Airmen saw it, an opportunity.
“He got on deployment when I was on leave,” Anderson-Goodman said of Golliday. “As soon as he got on, he and Gibson e-mailed me on Facebook: ‘Hey we got a deployment! Tell ‘em you want to get on!”
On May 20 and 21 respectively, Golliday and Anderson-Goodman arrived for duty in Southwest Asia, less than three months after the attack.
Honoring the Fallen
The bus driver, Cuddeback, was from Ramstein and not known by either security forces Airman before that day. But in his final moments, the Airmen said he left a lasting impression on them.
“Our flight had been delayed,” Anderson-Goodman said. “So he had been sitting there in that bus waiting for us for a couple of hours. If it was me, I might have been angry or impatient by the time we showed up, but not him. As soon as I got on the bus, he smiled and said, ‘How you doing?’ Not only that, but he even helped us load the bus — and he didn’t have to do that. He just seemed to be a positive person.”
Alden, a married father of two with a baby on the way, was a good friend of Golliday’s. Their friendship had solidified over games of Spades and good conversations during training in January.
“He was a good family man,” Golliday said. “He was a very positive and calm guy, but he was my bunk mate in training and I remember one night I woke up and heard him crying. I was shocked to see something like that. I’d never seen him cry, never seen him angry. So I asked him what was wrong and he said he just missed his wife and kids. Facing a deployment where he was going to be away from his wife and kids — and one on the way — he never showed his emotion. I just happened to wake up. That’s the only way I saw it.”
Anderson-Goodman had come to respect Alden as a co-worker and said he admired his unshakable nature and natural happiness. His favorite memory, he said, was when Alden had been talking to his wife and subsequently received a phone bill for more than $1,000.
“Now, we are not as rich as senior Airmen by any means,” Anderson-Goodman said. “We can’t exactly afford a thousand dollar phone bill, but instead of getting mad or cursing, he just said, ‘It could always be worse.’ I couldn’t believe how calm he was. He actually called and got it brought down a bit.”
The Airmen go about their daily duties here in the Middle East and have been recognized as solid performers. They have good and bad days with regard to the memories and emotions, but each said the motivation to deploy as quickly as possible was to honor the memory of their fallen and wounded friends. Both Airmen said they are proud to know they won’t be the last Lakenheath members who were on the bus in Germany to fulfill their deployed destiny.
Six more are scheduled to deploy in the near future — six more family members simply demonstrating the resilient spirit that will not allow an attacker to deter the mission.
“I just feel like I was supposed to deploy,” Anderson-Goodman said. “We were on the way to the fight, but the fight came to us. To Cuddeback’s family, and to the Aldens, we love them and we’re doing this for them.”