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Monday, August 30, 2010

Fighting Through an Act of Terror

By David "Jager" Burnell  

One of my best friends in England and a fellow communicator was named John. We spent lots of time together on and off duty and worked very closely for four years. John married an English lady and was destined to be in the United Kingdom as long as possible. One summer John wanted to go to North Africa on holiday. I counseled against it because of the situation reports (SITREP) of that area. Lots of bad guy activity in the Mediterranean. He decided to push on anyway and took his wife with him to Morocco and Tunisia. The world headquarters for Arafat — a long time dirt bag and terrorist — was in Tunis, Tunisia. Needless to say I was uneasy about his personal travel in that area without guns and friends with guns.

At 11:00 p.m. one night a few days after John and his wife left, my boss knocked on my door. "I’ve got some bad news about John." My heart stopped and I waited as the details of John's incident unfolded.

He, his wife and a bunch of mainly western tourists were on a bus in Carthage when the bus exploded from the bottom throwing passengers into the roof. John was injured in both legs and his feet with multiple fractures. His wife has bad burns on her legs and other passengers were even more critically wounded.

John managed to get himself and his wife out of a broken window and "run" to relative safety a few meters away. He collapsed on the ground and realized at that time that he had no more capacity to walk.

When the police arrived they took all the cameras and ripped the film out of them. John was transported to a hospital and placed on the floor. He got meager treatment at best for several days.

The authorities said that the air conditioner on the top of the bus exploded and that it was an accident. No official declaration was ever made about this incident and no one to my knowledge ever claimed responsibility. However a few weeks later several Hotels went up in explosions in the same area and islamic extremists claimed responsibility.

During this time I was ready to go and kill someone. Who do you kill when some anonymous group or individual blows up your best friend and his wife? Immediately a deep set enmity existed between me the people who prey through terror. I realized then and know now that evil men exist and prey upon the weak and defenseless to make their points heard. That is my personal definition of terrorism. John became a victim of it in a very real and permanent way.

After, we managed to get through all the red tape of getting John and his wife back to the UK which was not easy. He began the long series of painful surgeries and a multitude of recoveries. They had to put the bones in his feet back together. He had long pins sticking out of his feet for nearly a year. He was told he would never walk normally again and was going to be released from the service. He was devastated.

I was John's mate and would do anything I could to help him, but there was little I could do. I remember his desires to run again and get ready for his dream assignment of Combat Control. He had been trying to retrain into this elite unit for years with no slots available.

Since we worked out regularly John wanted to get back into shape and not only stay in the Air Force but get into Combat Control. Eventually he would cut the toes out of his combat boots so the protruding pins would not interfere with his movement. He began to walk after many months... slowly... methodically.

His toes would not bend like normal feet do so he would roll them in order to make motion forward. The pain for him was constant but NEVER did I hear him complain or make excuses or say "why me," NEVER. John just put one foot in front of the other until he could run. About a year or so after the incident, John ran 1 ½ miles for time. He met the required time to stay in the Air Force, but was not able to fulfill his Combat Control dream. He retired years later.

Here is a man who could have said "I am done," give me my retirement now and I will fade away. But he fought trough tremendous adversity and would never give in to the pain, doctors, doomed analysis or others' self imposed limitations.

John is my friend and one of my heroes.