Oklahoma City bombing: 24 years later

  • Published
  • By Col. Stephen J. Henske, Jr.
  • 108th Wing

I felt the need to memorialize the 168 people lost in the Oklahoma City Bombing horror.  Instead of focusing on the event however, I decided to focus on how Guardsmen respond to such an inconceivable act. In my lifetime, the OKC bombing was the first of a number of evil acts I’ve experienced. For those who may not know, the OKC bombing was a domestic terrorist truck bombing on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995.  

That same year, as a young 2nd Lt., I was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. Thirteen hours after the bombing that destroyed or damaged 324 buildings within a 16-block radius, I was leading a four-man rescue and recovery team into the destruction and death. Unfortunately, over the next 24 years we have seen more horrors, from the unimaginable loss on 9/11, to the Boston Marathon … the pain remains the same.

I do not want to focus on hate, I’ve done enough of that. I was angry at Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the perpetrators who bombed the Murrah Building, as I carried a DEA agent from the rubble, and furious at those who attacked us on 9/11, but those emotions are not why I’m writing today.

The focus of this article is you! 

OKC; who was there immediately after? The National Guard?  9/11; who was there? We were! Boston Marathon, did anyone see the picture of the Guardsmen helping the injured?  What does that mean to you?

As I was reflecting on OKC, I wondered if I could still do now what I did back then. The answer surprised me. Physically, I could handle it. Mentally, I would be more affected. Emotionally, I would be a wreck, but my spirituality would keep me going. As a 25 year old, I walked through the Murrah Building playground, seeing toys covered in the blood of the 19 children killed. It was shocking, but not devastating to me. Now I have three kids -- what a horror for any parent. 

What I’m getting at is we get tired of all the rules, the training, the fitness assessments. They drains us, they challenge leadership and all we want to do is our job! What does having a 39 inch waist have to do with turning a wrench? Resiliency training, really? Does that affect flying an airplane? You know, you’re right. But you’re also wrong. The real question is what does all that have to do with you as a Guardsman? A lot!

So to my point -- Are you ready? Do you understand what you could be called to do? Did anyone expect that four hundred 108th Wing Airmen were going to be on the beach and in shelters after a hurricane? Bottom line: take your training seriously and focus on why we are here. We are here to fight evil. It sounds like a line from a comic, but it is true. 

My fellow warriors, life is tough, training is demanding, some of it may not make immediate sense, but do it knowing that the better we are as Airmen, the more resilient we become as people, the closer we are as a team, the more prepared we are to face evil. Enjoy your time here, challenge each other, follow well, lead strongly and have fun. If you get up in the morning and aren’t excited nor have a purpose when putting on the uniform, find that purpose! Let’s keep moving forward together, and if that purpose is gone, thank you for your service and good luck in a life out of uniform.