Airman Logo Banner Home Features Features Features Features Features Features Features Features Features Departments Departments Departments Departments Covers Covers Covers Covers Back Issues Back Issues Back Issues Back Issues Favorites About Airman About Airman About Airman About Airman About Airman About Airman About Airman About Airman About Airman Related Links Departments picture - no caption Airman Consumer Dont't be a victim Dont't be a victim Airman's World
Surviving Terrorism

by 1st Lt. Danielle Burrows
and Master Sgt. Tim Barela
photo by Master Sgt. Keith Reed

When Lt. Col. Glyn Bolasky first
heard the news of terrorists hijacking planes and crashing them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, the timing surprised him. The terrorist acts did not.

You cease to be shocked at such appalling acts after being shot five times in a rain of bullets.

Twenty-two years ago, Bolasky was a 24-year-old sheriff’s deputy at the Riverside County, Calif., Sheriff’s Department. On May 9, 1980, he was the first officer to arrive on the scene of a robbery in Norco, Calif. He faced five men who were heavily armed with automatic rifles and handguns, hollow-point bullets and homemade grenades.

During the shooting, the robbers killed one police officer and wounded eight, including Bolasky. They also shot up a police helicopter and damaged or destroyed 33 police cruisers.

The bank robbers fired more than 200 rounds at Bolasky’s police cruiser, which sustained 47 bullet holes. Bolasky’s body absorbed shrapnel in five places: the face, upper left shoulder, both forearms and the left elbow. The elbow wound proved to be the worst of the injuries as a bullet severed an artery.

Though badly wounded, Bolasky continued to perform his duty. He shot and killed one of the suspects. It was the first and last time he ever discharged his weapon in the line of duty, and the first time he had been shot at.

“When I got shot, I wasn’t a cop anymore,” he said. “I was a human being trying not to die. I went into a self-defense mode. It was a caveman mentality with only one thing in mind — survival.”

The four other suspects fled. The next day, police shot and killed a second suspect. Police captured the remaining three, who were later convicted of 46 felony counts and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The Norco bank robbery has been described as one of the most violent in history. It’s used to train anti-terrorism agencies throughout the world.

Since the robbery, Bolasky, who is an electronic warfare officer with 12th Air Force at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., has talked about what happened that day to more than 6,000 people, including members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service and sheriffs’ departments around the country. He tells his story so others will learn.

“My attitude is that we always have to be ready; we never know what’s going to happen,” said Bolasky, who received the Sheriff’s Gold Heart — the equivalent of the military’s Purple Heart — and the Medal of Courage from his department and the Sheriff’s Association for his heroic actions that day.

He has traveled across the country, delivering seminars on responding to high-stress incidents and massive crime or accident scenes.

“As far as high-stress goes, Sept. 11 is as big as it gets,” Bolasky said. “I can’t say I was shocked at the magnitude. In my briefings, I’ve been saying for years this was coming. It was only a matter of time before something like this reached U.S. soil.”

Bolasky hopes the tragedy serves as an awakening.

“Making people believe something like terrorism can happen to them is the number one thing to overcome when trying to promote prevention and readiness,” he said. “Heck, even just a couple weeks before the Norco robbery, my supervisor was saying nothing ever happens around here.”

Bolasky made it his mission to make people realize it can happen in their communities.

“It’s sort of like cancer,” he explained. “Everyone knows cancer is a problem. They read all the statistics. But until it happens to them, they always believe it’s something that happens to everyone else. So they don’t get regular checkups. They don’t alter their diets. They simply don’t believe it will happen to them.”

He says they take the same attitude with terrorism.

“Terrorism is also something that happens to the other guy,” he said. “People just don’t believe it’ll ever hit home.”

He admits that following Sept. 11 some of that invulnerability has changed.

“Today if you try to hijack an airliner in this country, the whole planeload of people is going to come after you,” he said. “What do they have to lose?”

But Bolasky says there are still things to overcome. One of those is communication.

“It’s amazing with all the technology today that agencies still can’t talk to each other,” he said. “It happened to us during the bank robbery. Different agencies were on different frequencies, and we couldn’t communicate with each other. A lot of the same problems exist today.”

For the average citizen, it’s less technical and more common sense.

Bolasky doesn’t preach paranoia. It should still be fun to be an American, he says. But people should remain vigilant.

“For one thing, you should pay attention to your surroundings,” he said. “I’m not talking a life-altering change. I’m just saying that if, for instance, you go to a convenience store and notice that there’s no one behind the counter, you might ask yourself why. Is something wrong? More than likely, the clerk is stocking shelves or something innocent. Then again, maybe he’s lying behind the counter with a gun to his head. It’s worth an extra minute or two to assess the situation, instead of walking into the middle of something you’re not prepared for.”

Another common sense tip is to carry a cell phone with emergency numbers.

“Or for military members, be proud of being in the military, but don’t necessarily flaunt it,” Bolasky said. “This has been the case overseas for a long time, but the fact is, why give a stranger more information about you than he needs?”

Bolasky said that you don’t have to be an anti-terrorism expert to make a difference.

“Military people get plenty of realistic training that will help them in a terrorist situation,” he said. “In a high-stress situation, we all revert back to the training we’ve had. That’s why it’s so important to train serious and hard. The brain works fast in a life or death situation, and you’ll recall things you were taught. Your training will give you the ability to assess situations quickly and make better decisions.”

In the end, it may help you avoid being a statistic on the 11 o’clock news.