In part two of our look back at the NAS Pensacola terrorist attack one year ago, one of the sailors wounded in the shooting is beginning a new life as a businessman.
“Walking through the crime scene was like walking through the set of a movie; we just don’t expect this to happen at home,” said Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan on December 6, 2019. “This doesn’t happen in Escambia County; it doesn’t happen in Pensacola, it doesn’t happen to our friends and neighbors who are members of the United States Navy.
“But it did – and it has.”
Navy Airman Ryan Blackwell came face-to-face with Lt. Mohammad Saeed Al-Shamrani outside his office. The Royal Saudi Air Force officer was later killed by Escambia County deputies. During his rampage, Blackwell was shot a half-dozen times while protecting a fellow sailor.
“I was shot in my right arm — lost partial use of my right arm — two in the back on each side of my spine,” Blackwell said. “One went through my back and came out the inside of my thigh; then the other one went in my back, hit my pelvis and came out my left hip. I took one off the side of my right ribcage, also in the back of my right calf and my left foot.”
Blackwell was awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and was medically retired from the Navy. It was then that he and his wife Carly began their next chapter — a self-defense school in Gulf Breeze.
“At the time I was pretty banged up and couldn’t do much; I’m a 100 miles-per-hour type of person, so I was trying to stay positive and upbeat,” Blackwell said. “I started creating a website, just all my thoughts of WELL-Trained. WELL-Trained is a play on words in ‘Blackwell-Trained,’ but also being well-trained in all aspects of life.”
A former state high school wrestling champion from Cape Carteret, North Carolina, Blackwell serves as an assistant wrestling coach at Gulf Breeze High School. His training regimens incorporate that, along with his time in the Navy.
“I credit a lot of my survival to wrestling, the mental toughness and a lot of the life skills I went through with that,” Blackwell said. “We also incorporate a lot of the functional fitness to where you’re able to act in a crisis. Since I was already established with wrestling, I helped with the youth club last year in Gulf Breeze and the high school wrestling team. It was a no-brainer to give back to those kids and continue to try to create an impact.”
Shortly after the attack at NAS, 21 Saudi troops were kicked out of the U.S. after they were found to have inappropriate materials, including jihadi or anti-American content, on their computers. The Navy and Marine Corps also restricted base access for all foreign troops and their families.
“With this shooting deemed a terrorist attack by the attorney general, it just goes to show how close the enemy can be within, without knowing; and that just goes with the community,” said Blackwell. “Not to cause any scare but just in general, [you] should be aware of your surroundings, but not just about the military beefing up security. It’s more about the individuals themselves, making sure that they are personally ready.”
Since the shooting, the training of foreign military personnel from allied countries has come under criticism — fueling debate on whether it should it continued or be ended. Blackwell is neutral on the subject, having seen the bad (the attack) and also having seen the good.
“You sign on the dotted line [to enlist] and sometimes you do get radicals that come across,” said Blackwell. “But it’s not just Saudis; we work a lot with others — NATO countries and other things. So that mutually builds great relationships. So it’s kind of more than just for the average sailor to try to make a comment on that.”
More information on WELL-Trained in Gulf Breeze is available at welltrainedelite.com.
Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered flags to fly at half-staff at all local and state buildings from dawn to dusk on Sunday.