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NAS Pensacola reopens 'hallowed' building 633

NAS Building 633.jpg
U.S. Navy
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Naval Air Station Pensacola
The Colors are retired during a reopening ceremony for Building 633, Oct. 29, 2021, onboard Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola. Building 633 was the site of the terrorist attack on Dec. 6, 2019, that took the lives of three Sailors and wounded eight military and civilian personnel.

Nearly two years after the terrorist attack aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola, the building where it happened is going back into service.

Before moving forward, let’s go back to Dec. 6, 2019.

“We continue to follow this breaking news,” said an anchor on CNN. “Out of Pensacola, Florida, on this deadly shooting at the U.S. naval air station there. A Saudi military member who was training at this facility was the one who shot three people to death.”

“This morning we had an active shooter incident, approximately 6:30 a.m.; we got the call that there was an active shooter in one of our buildings,” said base commander Capt. Tim Kinsella at the time. “The base is currently shut down [and] the active shooter has been neutralized.”

Building 633 — the Naval Aviation Schools Command — was the scene of the shooting. A Royal Saudi Air Force officer — 2nd. Lt. Mohammed Saeed Al-sham-rani — used a legally purchased Glock-9 handgun to kill three people and wound eight others, the latter including two law officers, before he was killed by Escambia County deputies.

“Security is ever-changing, ever-evolving; we look at lessons learned from this and if necessary, and we learn from events like this to ensure that we do it better,” Kinsella said Friday. “I’m very, very proud of the response from my security department, and I’m very proud of the [Escambia County] Sheriff’s Department. It could have been a lot, lot worse, if we don’t train the way we do.”

“We stand here today, Lord, on hallowed ground, where innocent blood was spilled,” part of the invocation read. “Asking for Your grace and light to pour into our hearts and souls; so that we may find healing, peace, wisdom, and strength.”

Friday’s reopening ceremony also paid tribute to the three sailors who were killed: Airman Mohammed Hotham; Ensign Joshua Watson, and Airman Apprentice Cameron Walters — all students at the Naval Aviation Schools Command. Capt. Edgardo Moreno — NAS-C commanding officer — took the podium on a sunny, breeze morning.

“As we gather today, we cannot erase the pain of our loss; but still we come together as fellow citizens to honor our 3 fallen, as well as our 8 wounded patriots,” Moreno said. “To provide comfort and healing — as best we can — to remember the lives these brave men led.”

NAS Building 633-1.jpg
Joshua Cox
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Naval Air Station Pensacola
An Area of Remembrance was officially unveiled Oct. 29, 2021 in the Naval Aviation Schools Command (NASC) building, Building 633, onboard Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola. It was the site of the terrorist attack on Dec. 6, 2019, that took the lives of three Sailors and wounded eight military and civilian personnel.

He added that the fallen and wounded on that day will always have a place of honor at NAS-C, adding that there were other lessons learned on that day.

“We saw that Americans are vulnerable, but not fragile; that we possess a core strength that survives the worst life can bring,” said Moreno. “Comfort can come from the sort of knowledge that, after a tragic event, thousands of brave Americans have stepped up and stepped forward.”

It’s hard, Moreno concedes, to describe the mix of feelings experienced that day.

“There was shock and dismay, but awe at the bravery and kindness that rose to meet it,” said Moreno. “There was shock at the audacity of evil, and gratitude for the heroism and decency that opposed it. And the sacrifice of first responders, in the mutual aid of strangers, in the solidarity of grief and grace, the actions of an enemy revealed the spirit of a people.”

The guest speaker at the ceremony was Vice Admiral John Nowell, chief of Naval Personnel.

“These fine young men, and so many of the people that are sitting in the audience with you, fulfilled their duty that day with courage, and with honor. They will never be forgotten,” he said.

Nowell had a message to those returning to work in Building 633: That he realizes the work there may be difficult.

“While they may have recovered from their physical wounds, there may continue to be invisible wounds that need to heal,” said Nowell. “It is vitally important as you return to work here that you talk to each other and look out for each over. And that you ask for — or offer help — when you need it. We will be there for you.”

Since its opening in 1941 the building has played a vital role in the development of naval aviation and its aviators. It’s the people, said Nowell, which gives it purpose and meaning.

“In its earliest days, students went on to fight and fly during the battles of Coral Sea and Midway; two clashes with the Japanese navy that played a major role in turning the tide of World War II,” Nowell said.

After its flag was hoisted on the flagpole just outside the front door, and a flyover by training aircraft, Building 633 was open for business once again — providing instruction in technical training, character development, and professional leadership.