Do you remember where you were when the towers came down? I do. I was in the middle of changing a bladder cell in the belly of a KC-10 aircraft. The KC-10’s are aerial re-fuelers, which hold extra fuel in order to resupply the smaller jet fighters in flight, so they don’t have to keep landing for fuel. One of my co-workers came out and said something was happening but we dismissed him because he was a clown and trustworthy wasn’t a word that normally described him.
We continued working until he came back out and animatedly hooted and hollered until we went into the office and looked. I was shocked and saddened to see a smoking Pentagon and a commercial aircraft ram the side of one of the Twin Towers. While part of me wanted to stay and watch, the logical part knew we needed to get that plane ready for the plethora of missions which would likely follow. I gathered up my team and we pressed on with our job, as good people perished.
Any good soldier would have done the same. You see, our aircraft, like many of us, were soon deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. We supplied the fuel for the fighters who dropped the bombs. We needed every KC-10 operational and we made it happen.
I was sent to the desert twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Once during the summer (March through June), and again in the winter (November through January), missing Thanksgiving, X-mas, New Year’s, and even my birthday (which falls in December). It’s a little surreal trying to celebrate things that don’t seem real anymore. My days were spent caring for fourteen aircraft, for twelve hours a day. I was day shift, working midnight till noon. My Sergeant and friend were night shift. I was day shift because I was trustworthy, and did everything to the best of my abilities. No shortcut was acceptable. Think about that, one man responsible for the fuel systems of fourteen aircraft.
Spending twelve hours in 130 degree heat, fixing aircraft, or towing equipment, or even helping to launch aircraft made time seem nonexistent. You were stuck in the never-ending cycle of working, sleeping, and eating. But we had purpose. Keep those planes in the air. Keep those bombs falling. We overcame and kept working.
The United States Air Force has a set of core values, which represent everything they do. While these values were already a part of me before my service, enlisting only helped cement them in my heart. Even now, evn in my writing, I find that these values permeate everything I do. They always will be. I won’t go into great detail, but let’s take a look.
The first core value: Integrity First. Integrity is the willingness to do what is right even when no one is looking. It means holding yourself to a higher standard at all times.
The second core value: Service Before Self. Service before self means professional duties take precedence over personal desires. The role of service member comes first, even if your deployment causes you to miss most of the holidays and time with family.
The third core value: Excellence In All We Do. Every Airman should strive for continual improvement in self and service. It means striving for the best in whatever you do.
As yo can see these core values are still important to me, even now, years after leaving. They still affect many of the service men and women, first responders, and their families even after their service.
So to all of the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces, from someone who knows, thank you. To all of the men and women who lost their lives responding to the call of the lost and wounded that fateful day when the towers fell, thank you. To all of the families affected by the actions of 9/11, thank you.
Stand fast and stand strong. You are not alone. Some are still fighting, and dying today.
I’m going to leave you with the band Live and their touching tribute to the 9/11 first responders with their song Overcome. Don’t ever forget. I know I won’t.