Archive for Thursday, October 25, 2001

Terrorist attacks affect soldier in Saudi Arabia Sept. 11

October 25, 2001

Chances are, most people will remember where they were when they heard about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Staff Sgt. John Burns was stationed in the Middle East when hijackers crashed four planes, two of which pummeled New York City's World Trade Center buildings.

Burns was guarding patriot missile sites in Saudi Arabia when suspicions turned to Saudi native and known terrorist Osama bin Laden.

John's wife, Stacy Burns, said she wondered who was worrying more she and her children for John, stationed in the region from where the terrorists were suspected to have come, or John for his family in the United States.

"You feel like you're in control of what you're doing," John said, adding that working through the tragedy knowing his family was safe in Eudora made the ordeal less nerve-wracking. Not knowing would be worse, he said.

"Definitely," Stacy said.

After the attacks when many people were contacting loved ones, Burns had to wait eight days to e-mail his wife, Stacy, and children Cody, Shawn and Shyannah. He also worried about his brother, stationed in Kuwait.

As a member of the Kansas Army National Guard, John Burns knew about a year ago he'd have to spend time in Saudi Arabia. The routine job of guarding the missile sites is rotated between different states' national guards. But the attacks made his experiences anything but routine.

"It started out that the first three months were routine, just doing your job," Burns said. "Everything changed for us."

An assignment already on high security had to have personnel wear armored vests and kevlar helmets.

"It went from where we just could do our job to a lot tighter security," Burns said. "We are the protectors of the Saudi people."

Although anti-U.S. protests sprung up in the Middle East since the United States decided to take military action, Burns said he felt unwelcome even before that.

"The last month it just seemed like, 'They don't like us,'" he said. "They only see the bad stuff about the United States. We've got a hundred things that are great."

When Burns stopped in Spain on his way home he was met with a different reaction.

"As soon as you land, they tell you how glad they are to see you," Burns said. "You think, 'Thank God, somebody likes us.'"

The arid, treeless landscape, temperatures that could reach 130 degrees, and spiders larger than Burns' hand made even the environment inhospitable for this Kansan.

"It was hot, nasty, and terrible," Burns said. "It's good to be home."

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