Monday, September 11, 2006

Where were you?

I was in an jet aircraft on one of my last flights in training to be an Air Force instructor pilot. We had just had an incredible formation flight over south Texas and were looking forward to flying high-G patterns over San Antonio. When we arrived in the pattern, the tower called us up and directed us to land immediately. Pilots don't like to be told what to do. After a few questions about why we were rudely being told to land, we reluctantly threw the gear down and called it a day.

As I walked into the squadron one of my classmates came out to meet me.

"Someone hit the World Trade Center. They think it's an enemy country." I remember, very clearly, thinking that it was the equivalent of Pearl Harbor, that we would soon be at war, and regret in taking a training assignment that would likely keep me out of said war.

When I walked into the building there was a crowd of pilots huddled around a TV watching the two towers burn. My only thought was to call my wife, which I did after putting my chute away and checking in.

Emily was also in the air. She was in the midst of getting her private license on 9/11. On that day she had been tasked to do her first "area solo." What that means is that it was the first time she had flown away from the runway on her own--without an instructor. Things were going just fine until an emergency call came across the radio. An interesting fact is that she was learning how to fly in Waco, Texas--a few miles from the President's Crawford, Texas ranch.

"All aircraft are immediately directed to land."

Emily freaked. Not only did just landing produce a daunting task, but she had to do it now--as fast as she could. Eventually she aquiesced and announced on the radio that she was a student pilot, and the VERY understanding ATC controller talked her back to the airfield.

When I recieved no answer from her phone, I debriefed the sortie. I remember having to convince the instructor that we still needed to finish the training portion of the mission. After maybe five minutes (a typical sortie debrieflasts for an hour) he gave me a perfect score and left. I logged onto the internet and got my first report of the attack, which I'll never forget. It was from AP.

"World Trade Center attacked by aircraft--at least four people killed."

For the next three days we were restricted to the base, immobile and unable to fly. I called the assignment center to see if they needed me to return to my combat unit to fly. I prayed a lot. My sister was due to be married the next weekend, which was subsequently called off and rescheduled because noone could fly. I still have the frame with the original date scratched out and the new date inscribed upon it. But most of all I lived with anger and fury that I wanted to fly and drop good guys on the bad guys wherever they were. It will always live as one of the most frustrating weeks of my life.

The following weekend I drove up to Waco to be with my then two-year old daughter and infant son. I will never forget looking at the skies and not seeing any aircraft, for the first time in my life.

That weekend my wife and I went to a church meeting dealing with the baptism of our son. I will never forget the flags that lined the streets that day, for miles and miles until we got to the church.

On 9/11 I was training to teach others how to defend our Country. Other than standing in the way of those who killed thousands of innocents, I would not have rather been anywhere else.

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