USACE employee Terry Brooks never imagined that he would ever have the opportunity to impact the lives of the family of a fallen service member, but one of his recent projects at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, provided him a chance to do just that.
“I love the military, military history and have tremendous respect for military service members and their families,” said Brooks, who served as the project engineer responsible for the construction of the new $55 million replacement medical clinic at SJAFB. The clinic which opened in June 2018 is named in memory of Air Force Maj. Thomas F. “Teek” Koritz, who was a flight surgeon killed in a bombing mission during the first Gulf War.
Koritz was both an experienced medical doctor and a skilled F-15E Strike Eagle pilot, a rarity in the Air Force. He excelled as a pilot, later landing a spot with the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron. On Jan. 17, 1991, Koritz and his back-seater Lt. Col. Donnie Holland were shot down by Iraqi anti-aircraft fire after a successful bombing mission near Basra. Both the old medical clinic and now the new one, bear his name in memory of his service and his commitment to Air Force medicine.
The clinic, which has 24 centers, including flight medicine, family health, pediatrics, women's health, pharmacy and radiology, serves active duty and retired military members as well as their dependents. Construction began in October 2014 and the clinic was completed in June 2018.
As the project neared completion, one of the last components was the creation of a memorial wall for the main entrance of the clinic honoring Koritz’s sacrifice. When it came time to produce the picture and biography for the wall, the only thing that existed was a small black and white photo which hung in the lobby of the old clinic.
“As I began asking around for a picture, I was really amazed that the Air Force did not have anything other than an old, poor quality, black and white photo,” said Brooks. “I remember thinking ‘this is unacceptable’ this guy was killed in combat ... surely there is something out there better than this."
Efforts to enlarge the photo were unsuccessful due to its poor quality, so Brooks’ only option was to get a better picture. After talking to various people on base, including the staff at the old medical clinic and the Public Affairs Office, it was the base historian that led Brooks in the right direction.
“Dr. Roy Heidicker, the base historian, told me how patriotic the family is and said that Maj. Koritz had a son that followed in his footsteps and became an F-15E Fighter Pilot, and is currently serving on base with the 333rd Fighter Squadron.”
In total disbelief, Brooks headed straight over to the 333rd Fighter Squadron and found Maj. Koritz’s son, Capt. John “Steel” Koritz that same day.
“I explained to him who I was and what my involvement was with the project, and how we needed a good quality picture so we could properly honor is father,” said Brooks. “He was very gracious, and happy that the family would actually have input into how his father would be remembered.”
As a result of that conversation, the Koritz family provided Brooks with an old photo negative of then Lt. Koritz as a pilot, which they felt best represented how they wanted him to be remembered.
“One of the biggest challenges was honoring the family’s wishes against the wishes of the medical clinic,” said Brooks. “The family wanted Maj. Koritz to be remembered as a fighter pilot and the Air Force wanted to remember him as a medical doctor.”
The 4th Medical Group didn’t prefer the picture at first, but with some convincing from Brooks, they agreed to go with the fighter pilot picture out of respect for the family.
From there, Brooks was able to work with a local photographer and graphic designer to get the memorial wall created in time for the ribbon cutting ceremony, where the Koritz family was able to see the wall for the first time.
“They absolutely loved it,” said Brooks describing the family’s reaction. “Mrs. Koritz thanked me and said that the memorial wall far exceeded any expectations she had.”
Brooks said that he has never worked on a project that required contact with a family or family member, but seeing the family’s reaction to the wall made all of his efforts worthwhile.
“It feels really good to know that I had a small hand in honoring and remembering a fallen warrior in a way that was pleasing to the family,” said Brooks. “This is really special to me and something that I will never forget.”
Stephen Blanchard, USACE resident engineer at SJAFB said that the project has received rave reviews from the 4th Medical Group, staff and patients since opening.
“Terry went above and beyond his duty as the project engineer, and if it hadn’t been for him the memorial wall wouldn’t have been completed,” said Blanchard. “The wall and the entire facility is world-class.”