Air Force Capt. Nate Brown was hunkered down in a bunker on Al-Asad Air Base along with his team as they waited for the incoming Iranian ballistic missiles to hit their base.
The explosions come in wave after wave.
“I have no idea if anyone is alive outside this bunker,” recalled Brown, commander of the 443rd Air Expeditionary Squadron Civil Engineer Flight.
Brown’s experience is one of the many testimonials of service members who lived through the Jan. 8 attack that have been posted online by U.S. Air Forces Central Command.
The anecdotes provide a firsthand account of how U.S. troops at the base reacted before, during, and after Iran’s retaliatory attack for the airstrike that killed the former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
Senior Master Sgt. Noal Yarnes remembered how airmen played cards and pretended to sleep as they waited for the missiles.
“Then came the first impact,” said Yarnes, of the 443rd Air Expeditionary Squadron. “The bass resonating through the floor and walls of the bunker was met by muffled vocalizations I can't quite quantify as screams. The sound was more guttural, as if pushed from inside the human body by an involuntary spasm of clenched muscles.”
One anonymous security forces airman said that he had just texted his wife to say that he was OK when the warning blared over the loudspeaker: INCOMING, INCOMING, INCOMING.”
The airman, who was also with the 443rd Air Expeditionary Squadron, said he felt the impact of the first missile as he took shelter in a bunker.
“The sky lit up and we felt the shockwave as debris from the explosion pummeled our shelter,” he said. “My ears wouldn't stop ringing. The next four hours became a blurred mix of emotions and chaos. Bomb after bomb shook us for what we felt like all night.”
Staff Sgt. Brian Sermons said he was in a bunker when his captain yelled for everyone to get down.
“Then I felt the most soul-shaking explosion,” said Sermons, of the 22nd Expeditionary Weather Squadron. “Three more missiles hit – one within 150 meters of our bunkers. We could hear a shower of debris raining over the bunkers, smoke and dust filling the air inside. Aside from our shaky breathing, an eerie silence followed, then we heard rounds of ammo cooking off.”
Senior Airman Warren Gibbins said there was a long lull between missile impacts. He thought the attack was over, but then another warning was announced over the base’s loudspeaker.
“Someone said this meant we needed to 'lock and load' and prepare to defend,” said Gibbins, of the 22nd Expeditionary Weather Squadron. “This was the biggest shock and fear-inducing moment. Many people had left their weapons behind in the panic, and some didn't have ammo.”
“People began to set up at the corners and pull security,” he continued. “Then we waited. Security forces came by a couple of times, but thankfully nothing ever happened.”