1/19/2012 – ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England — When Staff Sgt. Trevor Brewer and 14 of his fellow 48th Security Forces Squadron members arrived at Frankfurt International Airport, Germany, March 2, 2011, it was just another stop on the long road to Afghanistan.
While the Airmen stowed their gear aboard the bus that would carry them to Ramstein Air Base, no one took notice of the individual who chatted with Senior Airman Nicholas Alden as he returned his luggage cart.
However, everything changed in an instant when that same person pulled out a pistol and fatally shot Alden.
“We were literally two minutes away from leaving,” Brewer said. “It was almost like I was already in Afghanistan.”
The man then boarded the bus and fatally shot the driver, Airman 1st Class Zachary Cuddeback, assigned to the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron at Ramstein AB.
Automatically the Airmen took cover behind their seats while the gunman worked his way past the Airmen’s gear stowed at the front of the bus.
“There were just so many emotions going at the same time,” Brewer said. “There was fear, but also anger at the same time knowing that I didn’t have a weapon and there was nothing I could do to try and stop this guy because I thought if I tried to get up to stop him I’d be dead.”
After shooting Senior Airman Edgar Veguilla and Staff Sgt. Kristoffer Schneider at point blank range, the gunman turned his weapon on Brewer.
“When I had the gun in my face, I thought that was the end of my life,” Brewer said. “I kind of saw everything flash before my eyes.”
But miraculously, the weapon jammed.
“The gun went ‘click’ and down slightly in anticipation of it firing,” Brewer recalled, “I got up… just to see what [the gunman] did. He backed up and drew the weapon in, but then he attempted to fire again.”
Brewer once again took cover, but the gun failed to fire a second time and now Brewer realized it was jammed. He bolted from his seat and charged the gunman, who was already fleeing the bus.
While the other Airmen were still taking cover, Brewer gave chase and pursued the gunman into the terminal. His singular focus was apprehending the man who’d just attacked him and his comrades.
“I chased him for about a quarter of a mile,” Brewer recalled. “My concern was him escaping and not facing punishment for what he’d just done.”
Brewer chased the gunman up a flight of stairs and momentarily lost sight of him. When Brewer reached the top of the stairs, he could see the gunman with his back to the wall, now wielding a knife. But this time the look on the gunman’s face was different.
“He was standing very rigid, very stiff…just looking at me. There was fear in his eyes as opposed to earlier when he had anger in his eyes pointing the gun in my face.”
At this moment the Frankfurt Airport police arrived and took the gunman into custody without further bloodshed. Brewer’s attention now turned to getting help for his wounded comrades back at the bus. In the second lucky stroke of the day, Joseph Conner, an American expatriate who worked at the airport, was nearby.
Brewer said Conner asked him what happened and Brewer told him he needed an ambulance right away.
Speaking fluent German, Connor was able to bridge the language barrier between Brewer and the police to call for paramedics.
When Brewer returned to the bus, he saw Alden’s body on the pavement.
“I went straight to him and felt [for] his pulse … and I knew he was dead,” Brewer said.
Meanwhile, Airmen were tending to Veguilla and Schneider. After the ambulances arrived and the dead and wounded were taken to local hospitals, Brewer and his team were escorted to a secure area to give statements to the police.
“Most of the guys were angry, some of the girls were sobbing, it was a room full of emotion,” said Brewer.
After the Airmen had been debriefed, instead of immediately returning to RAF Lakenheath, they were sent to the Deployment Transition Center at Ramstein.
“It honestly was the best thing that could have been done for us,” said Brewer. “It was good for all of us to be together and talk to each other.”
In the months following the shooting, both Schneider and Veguilla continue to recover from their wounds. The gunman was brought to trial in Germany, with Brewer serving among the witnesses testifying against him.
“It was an eye opener,” Brewer said, looking back. “You just never know what you’re going to run into.”
Because of their actions that day in Frankfurt, Brewer and Conner recently received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany from Interior Minister Dr. Hans-Peter Friedrich. Brewer has also been selected to receive the Airman’s Medal and the Col. Billy Jack Carter Award, which is presented annually to an Airman who plays a pivotal role in protecting Air Force members, assets and resources.
But Brewer said he isn’t accepting the awards for himself.
“The only reason I accept any of these awards is in memory of Senior Airman Alden and Airman Cuddeback,” he said.
by Staff Sgt. David Dobrydney
48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs