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Two U.S. soldiers foil a terrorist attack in Amsterdam – plus my flashback: the natural bravery of U.S. military men

Two U.S. soldiers foil a terrorist attack in Amsterdam – plus my flashback: the natural bravery of U.S. military men

Two off-duty U.S. soldiers saved the day yesterday in Amsterdam when a gunman opened fire with a Kalashnikov (an assault rifle) on the train they were riding, which carried 550 people. 

Air Force Airman Spencer Stone ran at the gunman when he opened fire, accompanied by Oregon National Guard member Alek Skarlotos.   Stone was wounded.  Two others assisted in taking down the gunman, Anthony Sadler of California and British National, Chris Norman.   Several others were injured, two seriously.  

The terrorist was identified as Ayoub el-Qahzzani, a 26 year old Moroccan, a suspected radical Islamist, known to Dutch intelligence services.  

The utter bravery of this act does not surprise me at all.  The U.S. military involved probably do not think this is worthy of special media coverage.  They never seem to understand the magnitude of the sacrifice they are willing to make.

These are heroes who likely saved dozens of others on the train.  

The terrorist was known to be bad, where were the Dutch police and Intel services?

Author’s Flashback:  I’m reminded of an incident from my days in the intel world.  We were on another continent in a third world country on a mission (sorry, no details allowed), and my team happened to be occupying the only hotel near the airport across a bay from the capital.  Said hotel was beat up, tennis court with craters, swimming pool full of unidentified brown stuff, antiquated in every way.   It was about a 2 hour ferry ride to the city, but we had to stay to maintain our mission parameters.

Just after we arrived a group of Navy SEALs arrived (completely different mission, but we were coordinated).  The hotel was full, my team taking most of the rooms, so we offered to accommodate them by spreading them through our rooms.  I had four SEALS in mine, one on the spare bed and three in sleeping bags on the floor.

One particular night, they had gone off duty and taken the ferry ride to the city, but had not returned.  A bit of a worry since the last ferry returned at about 10pm.  

They finally dragged themselves in about 4 am.  Turns out the ferry was way overcrowded with hundreds of people, the burden too great.  In the middle of the bay it took on water and capsized. 

As was later explained to me, this is no worry for a SEAL, whenever they go on a sea vessel they are trained to automatically scope out all of the exits and escape routes.  Unfortunately, the locals were not so well trained.

The SEALs immediately climbed to the top of the ferry, and then proceeded to risk their own lives by jumping into the water and pulling locals who were in trouble to safety.  Not one, not two, but dozens and dozens of them, pulling them to the relatively safety of the top of the capsized ferry.

This was still a tragedy, a great many of the locals drowned or were trapped, but somewhere between 100 and 200 are alive because of the efforts of these few men.

Was this a big deal to the SEALs? Didn’t seem to be.  In fact it seemed to be forgotten within a day or two, after all they had another mission to focus on.  I guess they are just used to being heroes.

I’m science fiction fan, and am reminded of a Robert Heinlein book called Starship Troopers (the movie was OK but it lost much of the philosophical basis of the book).  In the storyline, society was a meritocracy, you had to earn your way to citizenship through military service.  The idea was military veterans accepted responsibility for the protection of the society they served even at the possible expense of their own lives. 

In the case of the soldiers in Amsterdam and the SEALs in my story, I can proudly say they met this ideal.   They did take personal responsibility for the safety of others.  These are two examples of the courage and mettle of the greatest military on Earth.  “No man hath greater love…”




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