Former captive injects reality into Air Force terrorism class
Stars and Stripes August 23, 2006
NAPLES, Italy — Thomas “Tommy” Hamill punctuates the tale of his 24 days in captivity in Iraq with references to prayer and submission to God that he believes saved him from death.
“But I’m not a preacher. I’m a miracle,” Hamill said Tuesday to military and civilian students taking the weeklong Dynamics of International Terrorism class at Naval Support Activity Naples. The class is presented by the Air Force Special Operations School.
“People, this is about hope. Never give up,” Hamill told the crowd toward the end of his 90-minute presentation in which the former KBR employee spun a fascinating web of details from the April 9, 2004, attack on his convoy, through the subsequent days of captivity.
Hamill recalled the confusion of enemy gunfire and a flaming fuel truck. Somehow, he was out of his truck, and the truck was pulling away.
“I hollered a big ol’ country boy ‘Whoa!’ but I knew they weren’t going to hear me over the gunfire.” He was captured while crawling toward buildings for cover.
Six contractors and two U.S. soldiers were killed. Army Sgt. Keith “Matt” Maupin and trucker Timothy Bell still are listed as missing.
On Tuesday, Hamill spoke of divine intervention throughout his captivity, particularly when he said God told him to return to the dank L-shaped building, even though he’d managed to escape. He didn’t know where he was. Attempts to signal help or flag down passing helicopters went unnoticed.
“I had nowhere to go,” he said.
He spoke often with his captors, whom he said treated him well. Once, the former dairy farmer told a captor he’d sold 100 cows before coming to Iraq. The man was astonished, telling him that in Iraq, three cows meant a man was a millionaire.
“I thought, ‘Man, the ransom just went up,’ ” he recalled thinking.
Hamill got another chance and escaped after hearing diesel engines of what he thought — he hoped — was a U.S. military convoy.
He’d told God: “It’s now or never.”
After running through a tomato field, he safely reached a patrolling unit of New York National Guard soldiers. Fearing they’d mistaken him for a suicide bomber, he repeatedly yelled: “I’m an American POW. I’m an American POW.”
His wife, Kellie Hamill, spoke briefly about the anxiety of not knowing what had happened to her husband of 19 years.
“But the best thing you can do for your spouse is to be strong,” she said.
The Hamills’ first-person accounts bring an element of “realism” to the course, in which students are to “come away with a better understanding of anti-terrorism and force protection measures, and a greater awareness of the threats and how to protect themselves and their bases or units,” said Air Force Maj. Howard Libbert, the course director.
Typically, the course is taught at the Air Force’s Special Operations headquarters in Hurlburt Field, Fla., but staffers take the class on the road when invited, presenting topics such as the psychology of terrorism, terrorist groups around the world, and weapons of mass destruction.