Annual Reflections

Every year we become more divided on several fundamental issues, one of which is the events from 16 years ago. It amazes me to remember the unity that followed the horror, but even then I knew that the patriotism and pride would fade from public memory. However, everyone who experienced that day will never forget what they were doing when they first realized that our world was in the process of an immense moment…

Will we ever reach that level of national cohesiveness again?

I hope not. This may sound odd, but the catalyst for Americans to forget their various grievances has only been tragedy. As much as I would love the idea that we collectively get our crap together and realize that there is much more out there which necessitates cooperation rather than petulance, this is unlikely until a clear and significant threat manifests itself in a sudden and obvious manner.

The calm before the chaos. September 2001. (Source: author)

“What were you doing on September 11th, 2001?”

September 11, 2001 – Clarksville, Tennessee. I was at the end of my two-year assignment at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, and set to start the clearing process soon and return once again to my favorite duty station – Wheeler AAF, on Oahu. All of my issued equipment (TA-50) was torn apart and in various stages of cleaning or soaking all over the house I shared with a married couple who were also in the Army.

I was sleeping late…had a night flight later, and my show time for work was somewhere around 1300. At about 1030, the husband – a Black Hawk crewchief from our sister company, threw open my bedroom door rapidly yelling something like: “DUDEturnyourTVon!They’reflyingplanesintoBUILDINGSandthePENTAGON!!!”

I was confused, having been startled awake. On went the TV. Flip. Flip. Flipflipflip. Every channel. Once the magnitude set in, I remembered we were on Black Cycle – bags packed and ready to deploy in 24 hours… but being on orders, I had all of my gear broken down for cleaning and turn-in due to the unlikeness of any sort of crisis that would warrant a recall. Silly me, I know.

My first action was to pick up the phone and call the woman on Oahu I had met online in April and had been building the foundations of a long-distance relationship with over the summer. The five-hour difference found her asleep as well, and my first words after her groggy greeting were: “You need to turn your TV on – I can’t even explain what is going on…” After a few moments of shared shock, as we tried to comprehend the implications of what was happening, I got off to start prepping my gear… reassembling and packing for the inevitable phone call.

A few hours later, the phone did ring, but it was my housemate’s better half – she had forgotten her ID at work (on post) and needed to get back on base to get it. We piled into his Jeep, still stunned, and were somewhat amazed that the lines to get on post were long, but not insane at such an early point in the confusion. I would love to say with accuracy that there were several OH-58’s patrolling the perimeter of Ft. Campbell, but due to the shock of the day, it is difficult to remember if it was that day or the day after that we became aware of all of the scout helicopters in the air at seemingly all times.

Work called while we were out and left a terse message on both answering machines: “Don’t come in. Call when you can. We will let you know more when we find out.” Work resumed the next day, but the waiting to figure out lasted far longer. I left for Hawaii a month later… but the confusion never really subsided – at Campbell or anywhere – for a while.

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