Malmstrom Doctor Returns from Dhahran a Hero
By Senior Airman Debra Dominguez, USAF
American Forces Press Service
MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, MONT., Aug. 22, 1996 Away from the sound of a sudden blast, visits by top brass and invasions by national media, a hero returned home here Aug. 2 for some peace and relaxation.
Dr. (Maj.) Stephen Goff, like many other airmen, was deployed to the Middle East for 90 days in support of operations in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The tour turned tragic June 25 when a terrorist truck bomb explosion outside the Khobar Towers on King Abdul Aziz Air Base killed 19 airmen and injured hundreds.
The doctor -- a family practitioner -- was one of the injured. "I came back from the gym and was going to go roller-blading with one of my suitemates," he explained. "As I waited, I was folding up some carpets I bought and turned on the TV. Just then, the patio doors exploded and blew me across the room, where I landed on the couch. My first thought was that it was a Scud, so I tried to make my way out of my room."
Although his building was a good 200 yards away from the truck bomb, Goff said the force was strong. There were no lights and lots of debris everywhere.
"I could tell I was bleeding and that I had glass in me," he said. "I had some trouble breathing. I couldn't see anything, but I had to find something to stop the bleeding. I was looking for a towel but there wasn't any around. I found another suitemate and she was OK, so she and I headed to the clinic."
Upon arriving, he had his injuries checked out and then pitched in to help treat the incoming casualties.
"I started treating patients with my right arm only because my left shoulder had glass in it and was causing me pain and numbness," he said. "Before I knew it, the patients were arriving fast and furious."
The clinic staff set up a triage outside the clinic, sending the most seriously injured inside.
"I'd rather be here helping people than off in a hospital," Goff said shortly after the bombing. "You're here and you feel a sense of commitment to the people you work with."
"Doc Goff, he's a man," said Lt. Col. Doug Robb, clinic commander in Dhahran. "He's a great man [to put others above himself]."
"We train for incidents all the time, but never to this extent," Goff said. "We're talking some 400 people with a wide variety of injuries, but somehow we managed to pull together and make things happen."
Goff attributed much of the medical success to not only the clinic staff, but all the individuals who embarked on the first aid, buddy-care system to help those injured.
"If it weren't for people taking the initiative to use their training, the situation could have been much worse," he said.
As things calmed down, feelings of anger and confusion ran through his mind, Goff said. The bombing made him not so much afraid as more vigilant.
For his selfless acts in Saudi Arabia, Goff received the Airman's Medal in July from Gen. Ronald Fogleman, Air Force chief of staff.
"I've never felt like a hero through all of this," Goff said. "There were a lot of people who went above and beyond that night, and a lot of people did a lot more than I did. Receiving [the medal] is embarrassing in a way, but I can accept it as a tribute to all the medical people who were heroes that night.
"Regardless of the teamwork, in our minds, we'll always reflect back on that night and the cost that was paid -- the lives of our fellow airmen. That's something I don't think we'll ever forget."