Nine years, yet it still feels like it was just a few months ago. Vivid images and when I stop and think about it, I still feel the raw pain and emotion. I don't think I'll ever get over it. Acctually I hope I never do.
It started out as just another normal day; the weather was nice, not perfect, but not bad. The sky was blue with only a few high altitude clouds. It would be a full day of flying for our squadron of F-16s. Again, nothing really out of the ordinary; we had a full schedule planned and my job as the Lead Production Superintendent or Pro Super, was to ensure we had all the jets covered with appropriate mechanics. Their job was to either support the active flying or fix those that had mechanical problems. Just another day…
I spent the early morning like all others; in a meeting going over the condition and plan for each of our 27 assigned jets. Little did I or any of us know how the world was changing while we discussed aircraft status. After the meeting, I went out to my truck to get the daily work started. I was coordinating with the mechanics the who, what and where we would do that day when we had an odd radio call. “Attention all radios this net, this is the MOC (Maintenance Operations Center) with an announcement. All local flying has been cancelled; please respond with your call sign.” “Rude 1 copies” I replied but didn’t really think much about it. Cancelling flying is rare, but not uncommon in the military, but usually I have an idea of why; bad weather, an accident or something like that. This day however, I was just thankful we didn’t have to worry about flying our schedule, but could instead; focus our efforts on the several jets that needed maintenance. Boy was I in for a shock.
I still didn’t have any idea what was going on since I didn’t have the radio on. In my truck, I had to listen to two tactical radios and use my cell phone, so I didn’t play the radio. I was briefing my supervisors about the change in the schedule when another odd radio call interrupted me…”Attention all radios this net, this is the MOC with an announcement. Implement THREATCON BRAVO. I repeat implement THREATCON BRAVO. Please respond with your call sign, MOC out.” “Rude 1” I said then wondered aloud if there was an exercise I wasn’t aware of. I told my supervisors to get moving with BRAVO procedures, and then went over to a Security Policeman driving around the flightline. I asked him if he knew what was going on, but he was as clueless as I was. I couldn’t really call the MOC to ask, since they were probably eye-ball deep in what ever was happening, besides, I knew I would be briefed soon enough. Right now, we just needed to follow orders and get things done.
About ten minutes later, the Chief of Maintenance came out to my truck and started talking about smoke boiling out of the Pentagon. I thought he was talking metaphorically, you know, I pictured all the Generals with smoke coming out of their ears as they worked some issue. I still didn’t know. Then he talked about the crash into the WTC. “What the hell are you talking about?” I asked. “You haven’t heard? Where have you been?” he asked. Out here doing my job, now what the hell is going on?” He told me we were under attack. I couldn’t comprehend what he was telling me, so I went into our ready room and saw the images of the second plane flying into the south tower. I was stunned for about 20 seconds, then knew we needed to get focused and be ready for whatever tasking we would receive.
I immediately called my supervisors together and had them round everyone up and form them up in the hangar. I needed to talk to them. I don’t really remember what I said, but it was along the lines of “Our country is under attack. We need to put our personal thoughts and feelings aside and focus on what we’re trained to do.” “Anyone with family in NYC or Washington, get with your supervisors after the brief.” “I know you’re worried about them, but I’m sure you won’t be able to get through to them for a day or two, so try to contact them, but don’t focus on it.” I told them to focus on what we needed to do to get our jets combat ready. We’re trained and ready, let’s show them so when the commanders start looking for jets; we’re right at the top, ready to roll.
I told the supervisors to keep an extra eye on anyone with family in the area, not to let happening. I told them to let everyone take breaks when they needed to get updated on what was happening, but to make sure they didn’t forsake their jobs. I didn’t need to worry since our biggest problem was getting folks to take breaks; no one wanted to stop working. Those men and women, some no more than pimple faced kids, had to be ordered to eat or rest. These people were (ARE) DEDICATED. I was so proud of each and every one of them, and humbled to have been leading them.
We got our jets ready and were standing at the ready, wondering what our tasking would be. Since I was the Lead Pro Super, I had to attend the pilots briefing to let them know what the status of our fleet was. As I sat there, listening to the latest intel I couldn’t help but feel for the first time in my life, that I was glad I wasn’t a fighter pilot. I looked at their faces as they were briefed on the possibility and rules of engagement of engaging and firing on an unarmed airliner. I couldn’t read their expressions, but know they had to be conflicted inside. I know they would have performed their duty had they been tasked, but was praying they wouldn’t have to. Thank God they didn’t.
The rest of the day was a mixture of meetings, giving and taking orders, and praying. Praying for the victims, praying for our leaders, praying for those who would be asked to go into harms way. Yes, it was only a few hours since the towers fell, but I know we would be sending folks into harms way.
Later that night, after working a 17 hour day, I was able to call my wife. She was on her Air National Guard weekend and 500 miles from home. She told me they had been on a C-130 getting ready to fly a training mission, when they suddenly shut down the engines and told to get off the plane and return to their squadron. After they were briefed, they went into action putting together emergency response kits (her unit is and Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron) and verifying everyone’s qualifications in case they were called to help. She too had a very long day and told me the folks in her squadron were just as dedicated and focused as mine were. I had no doubt about that; the people who serve, whether active duty or Guard or Reserve, are a patriotic, dedicated, honorable population. I’m humbled to be in their company.
While talking with my wife that night, we finally allowed ourselves to grieve. We cried on each others shoulder, even though it was over a phone line. We prayed together. We cried together. We comforted each other.
Since that day, we keep the victims, their families, and those in harms way in our daily prayers. We refuse to forget; please don’t forget either.