The day started out as any other. A pretty normal Tuesday in fact. Put my uniform on, drove through the front gate of the Air Force base where we were assigned and got to work. After a few minutes it was apparent this wasn't going to be just another Tuesday...
In our military, readiness exercises happen all the time to prepare for events involving natural disasters and domestic/international threats. Awareness of these exercises occurs from internal communication and are posted at the base entrance. They are defined by an Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta scale. When response is warranted it becomes a "Real-World" event.
On September 11, 2001, the base was at "Real-World Bravo" when I entered and it went to "Charlie" just minutes after arriving. Within the next 30 minutes the base went to "Delta". We were at war-time readiness.
Called my wife and told her not to come to work as the base was posturing for a possible attack. With five military installations in Colorado Springs, Colorado it was a real possibility. While it takes everyone to make our military operate, there are some who are essential during a time like this. The rest of us were sent home, away from potential harm and told to monitor all communication channels.
What most of us witnessed through TV was a horrific terrorist act that still causes harm to the survivors, friends, family and loved ones left behind.
1, 778 Miles Away
After attending and graduating from High School together, the last time I saw John was in Kansas City. He was happy. He was excited about starting a new job in New York City! His new office was on the 101st floor of the north tower at the World Trade Center as an investment analyst. After being appointed by Mel Carnahan as the youngest county treasurer in Missouri at just 23 years old and starting his Ph.D. at Oxford he was ready to tackle this new challenge.
The first plane hit the north tower at 8:46 am ET just a few floors below his office. John and countless others were trapped. They only had two choices; jump or burn to death. You can read more about John Willett and his family's story here.
9/11 By the Numbers
19 Terrorist hijackers
3 locations (New York, Washington DC, Pennsylvania)
Citizens from 78 countries perished
2,996 people died
First responders "serve & protect" and health care professionals "do no harm". Similar to those, an oath is the minimum requirement for serving in our armed forces.
"I, (state your name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
The 9/11 terrorist acts in many ways defined those who served, and continue to serve, in our nation's military and first responder career fields. They were, and still are, the people who run toward the threat to save others despite the cost to themselves. This is commitment. Commitment to an oath and the foundation of our country.
Our country has a unique place in the world. A unique "oath" we've pledged. Colin Powell, former US Army General and Secretary of State during 9/11, helps make sense of America's place in the world this way:
“The United States is the necessary nation. Despite our own problems, mistakes, and malfunctions, the world continues to look to us to solve or help with problems and crises, big and not so big, whether we have an equity in them or not. We are trusted. We are trusted to fight aggression, to relieve suffering, to serve as an inspiration to freedom-seeking people, to stand alongside our friends, and to welcome the tired, the poor, the huddled masses of other lands yearning to breathe free. That is who we have been, now are, and always must be.”
From: “It Worked for Me”
9/11 changed everything. And like significant events before, it reconnected us to our bold national proclamation to fight for freedom and equality.
Today, monuments stand as tributes to all those who perished in the worst terrorist attack in American history. Monuments to remind. Monuments for reflection.
Rest In Power John!
On the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks let it serve to remind us that: No event is forgotten as long as we remember its significance. No one is really gone as long as they are remembered.
More on 9/11 "Patriot Day"
*Pictures in post by Nate Bradley, September 2021