Commentary Search

That September Day

(U.S. Air Force courtesy Graphic)

(U.S. Air Force courtesy Graphic)

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day? Who were you with? What were you doing? When did you see the tragic events that happened? Like many people around the world, I remember exactly where I was and who I was with on that September day.

9/11 was the day I was supposed to leave home to begin basic training in the United States Air Force. My parents and I were at the military entrance processing station in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I finished my medical examination and completed all the tedious paperwork required before finalizing my entrance into the military.

I remember not being able to look at my mother or father as I made my oath of enlistment. I knew they would have tears in their eyes; not tears of fear, but tears of pride. I was motivated, anxious and proud of the journey that was ahead of me--that all changed in an instant.

As we walked out of the auditorium, a big-screen television was showing live coverage of an airplane that hit the first twin tower and things got very hectic, very fast. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

The building went on lockdown immediately. After watching the second plane hit, I knew this was not an accident. My mother looked at me in shock and asked, "Do you still have to go?" I could tell my parents were going through a whirlwind of emotions. They went from proud parents to nervous wrecks. They were also worried about my sister, who was stationed in Hawaii at the time.

No one knew what was going on, and we all just stood there watching the events unfold on the television. After about 30 minutes of trying to make sense of everything, a group of us were whisked away to the airport to board our plane to San Antonio. I told my parents I had to go, but they insisted on coming with me.

As we waited for the flight, we learned of the other two planes that crashed into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. My parents did not leave my side. We finally got ahold of my sister, but were only able to talk for a few minutes before she was called to duty.

All air traffic was on hold, but the small group of us still boarded the plane. We sat for about two hours not knowing what was going to happen. I remember staring out the window, unable to comprehend what was going on.

Finally, the pilot made an announcement that all flights have been grounded. We were sent back to our hotel and waited for a couple of days for word of what was coming. I was in complete shock and everything felt so surreal.

On Sept.18 we were back in Sioux Falls boarding the plane to San Antonio. This time, saying goodbye to my family was much harder than the first, but I was ready to go.

Fifteen years later and I am still in the Air Force trying to make a difference every day. The images of that day are forever burned in my memory and they are the reason I have continued to serve my country. When I feel I have had a rough day, I think of all the men and women who lost their lives, the families who lost their loved ones and the first responders and service members who acted bravely in their line of duty. Every anniversary, I reflect deeply on that day.

Sept. 11, 2001, is one day I will never forget.