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Feature Stories

NEWS | Nov. 30, 2020

Security enterprise marks 25th anniversary of Riyadh bombing

By Story by Richard Bumgardner U.S. Army Security Assistance Command

Inside a large Saudi ceremonial tent at the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Maj. Eduardo Rodriquez, a logistics planner with the Office of the Program Manager, Saudi Arabian National Guard Modernization Program, stood before a sparse and solemn audience, reading a poem written during dark times.

The blast was heard all over town,
A part of OPM-SANG was blown to the ground.
There was fire and smoke that filled the air,
And all of a sudden, a wall wasn’t there.

The poem, Unaware of Danger, was written by the late poet Bessie Campbell, under the pen name Bessa McKay, on Nov. 16, 1995. That was mere days after a car bomb exploded in front of the former OPM-SANG headquarters compound in central Riyadh. OPM-SANG was then, as now, a subordinate unit to Security Assistance Command at Redstone Arsenal. OPM staff members have been working to help modernize the Saudi National Guard since 1974.

You wonder what happened on that sad day,
That peace in this land was taken away.
Crowd gathered around in amazement at what was done,
Because never before had a terrorist come.

For years Saudi and American security personnel believed that Saudi Arabia was an unlikely venue for anti-American terrorist activity. That belief was shattered on Nov. 13, 1995, when five Army civilians, one Soldier and two foreign national employees were killed in this terrorist attack.

At first, there was shock as people stared
And realized someone had openly dared
To rock this city, its calmness with a “bang”
To destroy what was known as “OPM-SANG.”

The bombing was the first recorded act of terrorism on Americans by al-Qaeda. The bomb took the face off the three-story headquarters building, once a vibrant center of activity in downtown Riyadh, with hundreds of employees.

No one could imagine this horrible crime,
As we tried to help those stunned and left behind.
For somewhere out there, the culprit was free
And no one even knew his identity.

“The horrible actions of 1995 were an attempt to abolish the outstanding partnership that OPM-SANG had with the Saudi Arabia National Guard and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, those actions failed,” Col. John White, the 24th program manager of OPM-SANG, said. “The current OPM-SANG team takes inspiration, from those that have come before us, to continue their great work.”

As hospitals responded to help those who were hurt,
The military here were put on “alert”.
To hope that somewhere a person would be caught,
So he could be asked, just what was his thought.

Five months later Saudi intelligence services identified four individuals with ties to Osama bin Laden training camps. They confessed and were sentenced to die.

There are deaths. There are wounds that take time to heal.
There are people who just don’t know how they feel.
There are people so thankful they were out of harm’s way
As someone “planned” to take lives that day.

This event, and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing dramatically changed security postures and force protection procedures for the U.S. military around the world.

He still roams free, but we are blessed you see.
What he planned was stopped by a hand so mighty.
Many were moved from where they would have been
And were being protected by a hand unseen.

Now, 25 years later, OPM-SANG employees Sami Al-Ahmad, Hani Al Said, Abdul Aziz Mujahed, along with Stephen Howard, who at the time was active duty, share memories of friends lost, heroic actions, and fateful timing during a tribute video at the remembrance ceremony. The bombing happened at 11:20 a.m., before the ground floor cafeteria was bustling with activity. Still, nearly 70 people were injured; 61 Purple Hearts were awarded.

We find some who say, fate intervened there,
But I call it God, and the power of prayer.
Because He protects, even when we don’t see,
And keeps us from harm, this God so mighty.

As a tight-knit family, OPM-SANG employees and their family members supported each other through the difficult recovery. In an article published in the 1997 edition of Military Medicine, titled: Coping with Terrorism: The OPM-SANG Experience, authors Maj. Larry Applewhite and Maj. Carl Dickins wrote, “Much can be learned from the survivors of terrorism. The OPM-SANG community is a bright example of how people possess the capacity to cope with a terrorist attack. Embedded within each individual story are lessons learned that can be applied by mental health professionals in response to future incidents.”

There will be days, we’ll remember our fears.
There will be times that our eyes fill with tears.
We’ll remember too, that death took some,
As Riyadh was rocked by a terrorist’s bomb.

Every year, on the anniversary, OPM-SANG remembers and honors those killed and wounded during that terrible event. This year was the 25th anniversary of that tragic day.

“I know for a fact we will never forget the members of our OPM-SANG family who made the ultimate sacrifice, or their family members,” White said at the ceremony. “Their example of selfless service continues to inspire us all.”

Editor’s note: Unaware Of Danger is used with permission from the family of Bessie Campbell to honor and remember those killed in the terrorist attack of Nov. 13, 1995: Sgt. 1st Class David Warrell, James Allen, Alaric Brozovsky, William Combs Jr., Tracy Henley, Wayne Wiley, and local nationals Eyakunnath Balakrishnan, and Thermal Devadas, who were cooks in the building’s cafeteria.