Salinas: A Survivor's Story

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Emily A. Kenney
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
As Dan Salinas began running his normal 3-mile loop, he would always look to his right and see children and parents playing under the bright lights of the park.

But, something felt off about that night. He realized there were no lights on, and no children or parents in sight.

The park was closed.

That June night the sweet smell of flowers blooming along the fence line filled the air, and he could hear the buzzing traffic from the nearby city. As if he was looking at a painting, the bright white moon and twinkling stars lit up the sky over Saudi Arabia.

Salinas finished his run before 10 p.m. and went back to his room to shower. He scooped up his pen and yellow writing tablet, and began writing a letter to his daughter Stephanie and his twin boys Mark and Matthew.

"I was writing a letter to my kids," Salinas said. "They always liked when I wrote them letters on the yellow paper. I ran out of yellow paper. And, I was going to walk inside and grab a new tablet, and one of my roommates said, 'Here, just use the white tablet.' I said, 'No. My kids like the yellow paper,' and I turned to walk in the room."

Walking into his room is the last thing he remembers. The next day, he woke up in the hospital.

But, he was no longer just a deployed Airman. Suddenly, Daniel Salinas was a survivor.

"It happened so fast," Salinas said. "All of a sudden, they were patching me up and taking care of me. But, that's all I remember."

On June 25, 1996 at 10:25 p.m. a diesel tractor-trailer packed with more than 5,000 pounds of explosives detonated at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.

The attack killed 19 U.S. service members.

That night, then-Staff Sgt. Daniel Salinas witnessed and survived a terrorist attack that took place less than 100 feet from his dormitory.

After the explosion, Salinas was transported to the hospital and treated for his injuries.
He had only been in Saudi Arabia for 32 days.

"My boss told me they needed someone to go on a short-tour deployment, and of course, I stepped up," said Salinas, who was deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. "About three months, later I deployed to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia as the staff sergeant of safety."

About a week after the attack he returned to Barksdale and was greeted by his family, fellow Airmen and the media.

Everyone had questions, but all Salinas wanted was some time -- alone.

On July 2, 1996 Salinas received a Purple Heart.

"That's an award no one wants to get," said Salinas. "My supervisor convinced me to accept it. I decided I would accept it for the 19 guys that didn't make it."

For nearly 20 years, Salinas has carried his Purple Heart in his wallet to remember his 19 friends who were lost.

On Aug. 26, 2015 Salinas' burden lightened when he received a text message from his father.

Through tear-filled eyes, he read the news he'd waited almost two decades for.

The mastermind behind the bombings had finally been captured.

"When my dad told me they caught him, there was a complete feeling of joy," Salinas said. "But, I kept quiet until I could look at the news reports and see it. When I read his message, it almost brought me to tears. I kept opening and closing the news windows. I just kept wondering 'Is this real?"

After hearing the news, Salinas was able to do something he hadn't been able to do since the attack.

He could finally get a good night's sleep.

"It just felt like a weight was lifted off of my chest -- just hearing that they finally found him," Salinas said. "(The bombers) are cowards, and it took 19 years to catch the mastermind. But, they finally did."

Though he was thrilled by the news, Salinas' first thought was with the families of the Americans who died that night.

"I feel a loss for the 19 that we lost out there," Salinas said. "They were true Americans. They had families. To this day, I still don't know how I managed to survive."

Nineteen years after the attack, Salinas is still recovering.

"I still have a lot of glass in my leg," Salinas said. "The doctors told me they could go in and remove it, but I would have to walk with a cane. I don't want that. I also don't take any medications. I just fight it the best I can."

Continuing to serve as a Department of Defense civilian, Salinas has deployed four times.

Equally a survivor and a fighter, Salinas is ready and willing to be deployed if he is ever called upon again.

"To this day, I still enjoy deploying," Salinas said. "If they ask me to go again, I'll go again. I'm packed. All I have to do is throw a shaving kit in and get my shots, and I'm good to go."

Salinas hopes no one has to see what he's seen and urges Airmen to always expect the unexpected, stay aware and stay up-to-date on Self Aid Buddy Care.

But, no matter how many times he shares his story there is one word this survivor will never use to describe himself.


"I'm not a hero. I'm just a survivor," he said.