U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein recently said in a note to commanders that suicide is an adversary killing more Airmen than any enemy on the planet.
In order to address rising suicide rates in the Air Force, a resiliency tactical pause was ordered with each wing at liberty to handle the day how they felt best.
A combined B-52 resiliency tactical pause was held on Sept. 10 in Fannin Hall as part of Team Tinker’s efforts to address the problem and meet the directives of the Air Force chief of staff. Attendees were provided statistics and information from various helping agencies, as well as a personal account from Tech. Sgt. Trevor Brewer, 72nd Security Forces Squadron flight chief and Ambassador for the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program (AFW2).
Brewer told the filled auditorium the story of a 2011 terrorist attack in Germany he was involved in that resulted in the death of two fellow Airmen and wounded two others.
“I had been in the Air Force for four and a half years. I was 22 years old and I had been a staff sergeant for seven months. A few months before that I was tasked to deploy to Kandahar airfield to be an intel liaison. January 2011 I went through my intelligence training and February 2011 I went through my pre-deployment training,” Brewer said. “March 2, 2011, was the day that my life changed forever.”
Brewer was travelling with 14 other Security Forces members from Royal Air Force Lakenheath to the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, where they were to board a bus that would take them to Ramstein Air Base before deploying to Afghanistan.
The group of Airmen with the 48th Security Squadron loaded their gear into the Blue Bird bus and awaited departure.
“It was one of the Airmen’s 21st birthday and, to be honest with you, I was thinking about how nice the beer was going to taste at Ramstein that night,” Brewer said. “While I was sitting in my seat thinking about the ice cold beer at Ramstein, I hear a faint pop outside of the bus.”
Brewer didn’t think anything of the sounds at first, but then he heard footsteps coming up the bus.
“I see a man in a gray sweatshirt with his hood up. He had his right arm raised up and at the top of his lungs I hear him scream, ‘Allahu Akbar,’ and he had a pistol and shot Airman (Zachary) Cuddeback point-blank in his head and killed him instantly,” Brewer said.
In that moment, he said he thought the whole situation might be a drill.
“As a defender we do a lot of exercises and drills for certain situations and, in my naivete, I thought it was a drill. In that split second I realized I had nowhere to go and this man is probably going to kill every single one of us. So, I put my head down and I waited for my turn to die.”
Brewer continued to hear gunshot after gunshot as he took cover behind his seat until finally the shooting stopped.
“At this point I think that the shooter’s gone and I sit up in my seat and I’m staring down the barrel of a 9mm pistol, and this man screams ‘Allahu Akbar’ and pulls the trigger and the weapon malfunctioned,” he said.
The shooter pulled the trigger again, but there was another malfunction.
“At this point I knew I had to do something,” Brewer said. “I charged this man realizing that if I don’t do something now, we’re all going to die. I pursued him through the airport for approximately 300 yards and helped German authorities apprehend him.”
A retired Army soldier who happened to be at the scene assisted Brewer in translating what had just happened to the German police.
“I had two men get shot, two others wounded and we needed help,” Brewer said.
Brewer ran back to the bus where he verified the deaths of Cuddeback and Senior Airman Nicholas Alden and found his other Airmen providing first aid to those who were wounded.
Upon return to duty after the incident, Brewer noticed that he just wasn’t the same and that a good wingman stepped in and pushed him to enter into counseling with Mental Health.
“I couldn’t sleep, I was having nightmares, I was having flashbacks, I was very irritable, I was drinking heavily…so I went up to my supervisor a week after my return and told him that something wasn’t right. He scooped me up and put me in a vehicle and took me to Mental Health and that was the best thing he could’ve done for me,” Brewer said. “If it hadn’t been for the Wounded Warrior Program and the Mental Health counseling that I received, I probably would’ve committed suicide shortly after my return, or I would’ve committed a felony or driven drunk and hurt somebody else.”
Brewer said the support he received from friends and family after the incident are what changed his perspective.
“I hope you understand the impact you can have on somebody’s life,” he said. “Even the small things can mean big things for people.”
Brewer also emphasized that reaching out for help when you need it is not something to be ashamed of.
“I wouldn’t be standing here today as a tech sergeant with a line number for master sergeant. if I hadn’t gone forward and sought the help, and if I didn’t have somebody who gave me the help that I needed.”