Service members, civilians honored for response to Pensacola terror attack
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 22, 2020
More than two dozen Marines, sailors and civilians have been recognized for their response to a terrorist shooting that left three sailors dead at Florida’s Naval Air Station Pensacola.
A ceremony last Tuesday recognized 13 security and emergency personnel who responded to the Dec. 6 attack in which Saudi Arabian 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani opened fire in a classroom, the Navy said in a statement. A second ceremony on Friday recognized 12 members of the Naval Aviation Schools Command and Marine Aviation Training Support Group 23, a separate statement said.
“Without hesitation, these brave men and women ran toward untold danger, not knowing if they would return,” Capt. Tim Kinsella, the base’s commanding officer, said of the 13 people honored from NAS Pensacola Navy Security Forces and Fire and Emergency Services Gulf Coast. “They stared pure evil in the face, they stood their ground and they saved lives.”
Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, head of Naval Education and Training Command, still found it hard to comprehend how the attack, in which eight other people were wounded, could happen at the base, he said Friday, “but it did happen, and I remain in awe at how those we honored here today responded.”
A New York Times review reported lapses at nearly every step of the screening, selection and monitoring program for foreign troops. Alshamrani had two years of contact with al-Qaida leading up to the fatal incident, during which the Saudi trainee was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies, the report said.
Saudi security services had failed to spot early clues of the shooter’s ideology, the Times reported Sunday. State Department and Pentagon vetting failed to identify a “pattern of troubling social media activity” that linked him with extremist ideology, the newspaper said.
Later, an insider threat program set up by the Pentagon did not monitor his movements and activities after he arrived in the U.S., because he was a foreign trainee, the Times report said.
In the wake of the shooting, Defense Secretary Mark Esper suspended operational training for more than 850 Saudi military students in the United States. The U.S. later expelled 21 Saudi cadets, and Esper ordered stronger vetting and monitoring procedures.
The gunman killed Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, of Coffee, Ala., Seaman Apprentice Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Ga., and Seaman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Amid the chaos, quick action by sailors, Marines and civilians saved “untold lives,” said Vice Adm. Yancy Lindsey, head of Navy Installations Command, in recorded remarks during last Tuesday’s ceremony. Awards included one Secretary of Defense Medal of Freedom, three Navy and Marine Corps medals, one Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, four Secretary of the Navy Distinguished Civilian medals for Valor and four Navy Installations Command lifesaving certificates.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Carl Daniel, a naval air crewman and instructor at Naval Aviation Candidate School, received a Purple Heart for his wounds and a Marine Corps Commendation Medal on Friday for providing first aid, the Navy said.
“I joined the Navy to be a rescue swimmer knowing that one day my number might be called to save someone,” Daniel said in the statement. “I wish it had not been under these circumstances. At the end of the day, I did what I did and I would do it again without skipping a beat.”
Awards presented Friday included two Navy and Marine Corps medals, two Purple Heart medals, six Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medals, two Navy Superior Civilian medals for Valor and one Navy Civilian Service Commendation Medal.
“It’s great that we are all being recognized for our actions, but I feel that we did what any other Marine or sailor would do when put in the same situation,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Pfannenstiel, an instructor at MATSG-23, who received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for delivering medical supplies and helping others treat the wounded.
Two other service members were recognized in May, when one received a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and the other received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal and Purple Heart. Two more sailors are still due to receive medals in separate ceremonies.
“None of them came to work that day expecting to face the unimaginable,” Cozad said. “But they all know firsthand what it means to do what needs to be done in the face of adversity and to sacrifice for each other and our country.”