Friday, November 6, 2009

Fort Hood Tragedy Brings Memories of Dean Melberg and Fairchild AFB: I Was There

On June 20, 1994, 20-year-old Dean A. Melberg walked into the Fairchild Air Force Base hospital complex and opened fire with a MAK-90. He killed four people - including an eight-year-old girl - and wounded twenty-three others before he, himself was killed.

My first husband was an LE (law enforcement) airman stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base, near Spokane, Washington. Because the LEs and SPs (security police) worked so closely together, we knew Andrew P. Brown, the airman and security police officer that eventually fired the shot that stopped Melberg's killing spree. I thank God that the final shot, from a remarkable distance, fired straight and true, preventing the senseless loss of even more lives.

I was almost six months pregnant with our son at the time, and had really meant to get around to seeing one of the OB docs at Fairchild, but it was only a three-hour drive back to my hometown, and I loved my doctor there. Since it was my first pregnancy, I didn't feel comfortable with seeing a potentially different doctor at every appointment at what we jokingly called "Fairchild Medical Hobby Shop." Some of the other wives on the base were pregnant, and their stories of never knowing who they were going to be attended to when they went in for appointments grossed me out. I didn't want just any doctor inspecting my hoo-hoo. I wanted MY doctor.

Still, military insurance is a great thing, and I knew I had to conform eventually. "Tomorrow," I said, "I'll go in to the base hospital." I was due for a prenatal check-up. It was June 19th, 1994.

When I woke up that morning, I chickened out. Instead, I called my hometown doctor and asked if he could fit me in sometime that day. He couldn't, but he could get me in the day after. Since my then-husband had the day off, he agreed to drive me back to our hometown, figuring we could spend the night with family, go to an early appointment and get back to the base in time for him to work his late shift.

Relieved that I wasn't going to be seen at the Hobby Shop, I didn't give it another thought until two hours later, when we stopped along the way at my sister-in-law's house. She had the television on, the sound muted. She wasn't paying much attention to the news program that was showing, but as soon as we walked in, my husband said, "That's the base. What's going on? Turn on the sound."

It was then that we learned of the tragedy that took place at our base. In fact, we had been driving past the narrow road that led to the hospital at precisely the moment Dean Melberg was killing Captain Alan London and Major Thomas Brigham, the chief of psychological services and a psychiatrist, respectively, who had recommended Melberg's discharge from the Air Force.

This was 1994. We didn't carry cell phones back then. We used my sister-in-law's phone to call as many people as we could in two minutes: our friends, who were supposed to take their young son in to be seen for a bad cold (they didn't go because the boy was having a tantrum), the ranking LE officer ("You'd better get back here as soon as you can," he instructed my husband), an LE contact ("He started in the psychiatrists' office, went through the OB-GYN section, killed a lady in the parking lot... Brown took him out... It's bad. It's real bad.")...

We hustled back to the car (okay, I waddled) and headed back. We alternated between intense silence and a volley of questions neither of us could answer: How could this happen? Why did he do it? Are our friends all okay?

What if I hadn't changed my appointment?


Airman Brown was on bicycle patrol that day (I'm warning you: Don't ever laugh at a bicycle cop again. I know I don't.) when he saw Melberg - who had already shot his way through the hospital annex and the main hospital and exited to the parking lot, where he shot a woman five times as she tried to flee - shooting at people, who were running in panic. He dropped his bicycle and shouted at Melberg to drop the weapon. Melberg turned and fired at him.

Brown dropped to the ground and fired four rounds from his 9mm Beretta. Two shots missed. One hit Melberg in the shoulder. One hit him directly between the eyes and killed him.

Brown was 70 yards away from Melberg.

Nineteen rounds remained in Melberg's MAK-90.

The following day, a twenty-five year old pregnant shooting victim lost her five-month fetus due to the trauma of her injuries. The death of the unborn child brought the death toll to six.

The tragedies at Fort Hood and Fairchild are events that don't make sense. They are devastating and monstrous; they affect more lives than we can imagine. Regardless of the circumstances that prompted the gunmen in these attacks to snap, let's make an effort to focus on the families affected by these tragedies, and to say a prayer for each and every one of them.



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2 comments:

TRESTIN MEACHAM said...

It was a sad day. I just hope that the Army can learn from this and prevent anything like this happening again.

The Gonzo Mama said...

Yes, Trestin. I agree. What I hope the military learns is to teach our soldiers the value of self-care, and to be alert to warning signs that some may be breaking under the stress of their jobs.

There were many warning signs with Melberg - indeed, he had been recommended for discharge by Air Force psychologists and psychiatrists. However, it was the discharge itself that sent him over the edge.

As we hear the results of the investigation into Fort Hood, I'm sure we'll see that the gunmen there, too, was breaking under stress (and early reports have already indicated that).

May the Lord comfort the families affected by violence, worldwide.