Like most people, I can remember six years ago Monday as if it was last week - where I was, what I was doing, and the thoughts I had and emotions I felt as the day began, developed, and ended. Just like the rest of America, and the rest of the world, I suffered through the telecasts, radio reports, and everything else - feeling unspeakable horror, questioning, rage, and desire for retribution.
Though a proud Christian and American all my life, I bought my first Bible in a couple of years that day, as well as a giant American flag that I could hang in my window. Like the rest of patriotic America, I cursed Katha Pollitt for her column explaining to her daughter that the Flag of this country was not only scary, but a sign of the worst of humanity. Like the rest of America, I bled with the firefighters who gave their lives in an effort to save others; I leapt from the 92nd floor with those who fled the flames for a much grislier death; I shed tears with President Bush as he addressed the nation multiple times. I did the same - but in a very different way - days later, when he took up the bullhorn atop the rubble, and told us that soon, "the world would hear us."
The only difference between myself and most others, on that day and in the aftermath, was that I had the fortune to be able to do something about it. I was one of the instruments through which we would ensure that "the world would hear us."
In September of 2001, I was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, with a team of Tactical Air Controllers which were attached to Special Forces and conventional army units to provide airstrike control and communications expertise. A hotshot young Operator, I had gone through superman-worthy training schools, and was already dealing with the ennui common to those who dedicate their time and lives to training for an immensely specialized vocation, and then endure the letdown of the real-world fact that, in peacetime, for the 2% of the time spent doing the fun, action-packed, adrenaline-rushing parts of the job - be it SCUBA diving, directing live fire exercises, training in close-quarters combat, or any one of a thousand other activities - 98% of work time is actually spent in the accomplishing of mundane tasks, if that. Unbeknownst to myself or anybody else, that mindset, and situation, was about to change.
On 9/11/01, I had just finished my morning run and walked back into my room in the "barracks" (actually an old hotel) to cool off, shower, and grab breakfast before starting my workday, when the fella who lived across the hall from me, a young, wet-behind-the-ears Air Force kid named Clint Austin, came to my door and told me that a "plane had hit the World Trade Center."
Imagining a Cessna crash, or some other relatively insignificant occurrence of human-error, I told him that I'd check it out (he was a bit piqued that I didn't believe just his word on it). With that, I turned on Fox News - just in time for the second plane impact.
Words can't describe the emotions I felt over the next hour or two - I don't remember how long it was - as I sat at my kitchen table watching the reporting, all thoughts of going to work on time forgotten. You all felt the same way, I know. I was sitting there when the Pentagon was hit, and also when the mistaken report came in that there had been a car bombing at State. The rage and frustration was unutterable.
When I finally left for work, I was seething - well past a very dangerous boiling point - and was itching to employ my training and skills in an effort to hunt down the animals who had done this. I arrived at the "shop," and joined the rest of the guys gathered around the big screen television in the Team Room, just in time to see the first tower come down.
I heard the second tower drop on a radio that was on in headquarters as I dashed in there on a quick errand; the older, more experienced operator sitting at the StanEval desk and I pausing to share our utter rage at the day's events, as well as the frustration not only that we couldn’t immediately go after the culprits, but also that we, a part of the proverbial Tip of America's defensive spear, hadn't been able to do anything to protect those who were victimized that day (at the time, the MSM's guesstimates of WTC deaths were still hovering around 40-50,000).
Word came from on high that afternoon that the entire post was to hit the playground areas of the "Back 40" (conveniently out of reach of any media access) to train, in whatever way the units' leaders felt appropriate – not as preparation, but to get the youngins' minds off of the day’s events. For us, this proved to be a fruitless effort; rather, certain that we would be called to action within weeks, if not days, we hit the conexes where our gear was stored and began checking it over and ensuring that we and our kit were deployment-ready.
We weren't to be disappointed. Both our special operators and our conventional troops were in the Afghan theater in what seemed like no time, doing what they had trained to do, and exacting America's revenge -- and the rest, as they say, is history.