Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Memories from the 8th Anniversary of 9/11/2001

So that we may never forget what happened and those who have never returned to their loved ones who miss them, I am posting my memories of 9/11/01; I wrote this a couple months ago, on the 8th Anniversary. I figure that today, the Marine Corps Birthday, and the eve of Veterans' Day, is as good a day as any to re-post this piece here. And in honor of the Marine Corps, my brothers and sisters in arms, I give a big "Ooh-rah!"

It began as any other weekday for me.

I was in the military at the time, in the Air Force, stationed in Tucson, AZ. Arizona doesn’t do the time change thing, and since the clocks had yet to “fall back,” we were still on L.A. time (since the west coast had sprung forward, and we hadn’t).

My normal routine was to go to the gym 4 days a week to run or occasionally do some other form of cardio like the elliptical or stairmaster (taking one week day off and planning to go to the gym either Saturday, Sunday, or both). I’d get up at 4:30 AM, do the quick bathroom thing including brushing my teeth, and then I’d get my running clothes on . . . all on auto-pilot. And then, while I ate a piece of toast or something, I’d watch the weather channel to see how hot it already was at 4:45 AM, and how hot it would get that day. I’d get to the gym by 5 (actually, it was usually 5:05) so I could run on the treadmill.

See, in Tucson, it would already be in the upper 80s by 5 AM, partly because the overnight low was *only* in the low 80s. I thought it was cooler to run on the treadmill in the gym (plus, I could try to get one near a fan). My other reason was because I didn’t necessarily want to run outside in the pre-dawn darkness and literally run into the coyotes that normally prowled around in the twilight.

But that Tuesday 8 years ago was the day I chose not to get up at 4:30 to go to the gym. 2001 was a year of negative “things” happening in my life. Exactly 6 months earlier, on March 11, 2001, an event happened in my life; let’s just say I’m saving that story for another time – it’s not for today (maybe tomorrow, or next week, but definitely not today).

Anyway, I’d decided on Monday evening that I would take my “day off” the following morning. I’d taken one week day off from the gym most other weeks. This morning was no different than those other days . . . aside from not having turned on the TV. This one thing was different. I normally had the news on the TV on my days off from the gym. But this morning, I didn’t have the TV on for one reason or another.

I got up at 6 and took my time getting ready. I ate something for breakfast (2 scrambled eggs, a small glass of orange juice, a piece of toast). I was deciding if I should get a weight workout in during lunch, and packed my gym bag, in case I decided to do weights at lunch or right after work. I got dressed, and was in my car at about 6:55 AM. My duty hours were 0730 – 1630, and if I left just before 7, I’d be able to get to base, park, and into my office by 7:20. So far, I was on schedule.

I usually listened to John-Jay and Rich on the radio in the mornings. They were usually laughing and goofing around. But this particular morning when I turned on the radio, they were somber. They were talking about the structural soundness of skyscrapers after a damaging event. I didn’t know why, since there were no skyscrapers in Tucson. They were talking about plane crashes. I couldn’t figure out exactly what they were talking about.

I switched stations and found that everyone was somber. Everyone was talking about plane crashes, sky scrapers, New York. What? Did something happen in New York? I switched back to John-Jay and Rich. They were talking about whether the towers would hold, or if they would fall, *could* fall. The Twin Towers?

I turned south onto S. Craycroft Rd. off of Speedway Blvd. Whoa! There was a huge backup trying to get onto base. I saw that the the FPCON (Force Protection Condition) had changed and was no longer at “Normal.” Ahh, no wonder there was a huge line. It was at “Bravo” indicating that there was an increased and more predictable threat of terrorist activities. Okay, so things were starting to click regarding what I’d been hearing on the radio.

About 7:30, as I was inching closer to the main gate I saw that there were MPs and MWDs (military working dogs) checking everyone. At about this time I got a call on my cell phone. It was the NCOIC in my office; he’d just gotten through the gate and into our office. He was doing a personnel check to see where everyone was as the highest ranking person in the office so far. Some of the other personnel I worked with in our office lived on base and had gotten to the office quickly. I was stuck at the gate, as was our commander. The deputy commander was also stuck, somewhere behind me. I told Master Sergeant Jefferson that there were a few cars in front of me, and that I’d get there as soon as I could.

When I finally got to our office, we were in the process of doing a lock down and getting everyone checked into the secure area. We had to get ready for the installation commander and group commanders; they’d be coming in for a briefing. We had the TVs on various news stations. I was floored when I finally saw what was going on.

Our base had ceased all military air traffic. It was eerily quiet without all the military aircraft flying. Plus, the Tucson Airport had ceased all air traffic (as did everywhere else). I think the lack of air traffic noise is what got the hair on the back of my neck to stand on end because it just added to the creepy “Oh, crap!” factor.

Later on that day . . . actually it was just later that morning, but it just felt like it was eons later . . . I went back to my office in the un-secured section, where I could get my cell phone and make a non-secure phone call. There were messages from my parents, wondering if I could give them any info (whatever info I had was classified and I couldn’t tell them anything other than to watch the news). They wondered and worried if I’d be deployed on the spot. No, the installation needed my logistics expertise at home, to assist in the orchestration of military movements leaving or entering the base.

Reports were coming in later about the Pentagon. I knew someone (an Air Force person) at the Pentagon. I didn’t know if she was safe or not. She was, as I found out later, but some of her co-workers were not.

It was a long day, with lots of briefings. We scheduled 24-hr ops, with everyone on a 12-hour shift, the actual 12-hour shifts to start September 12 (as we were all doing a super long day on the 11th). I think I ended up getting home around 11 PM.

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