Guest Commentary: I was in the Pentagon on 9/11, today I help train the next generation of airmen who will keep us safe

Huddled around the television, we all watched events unfold in New York. After the second plane impacted, someone threw out the idea that the Pentagon would have made a good target. Not minutes later, the Pentagon, a 7-story building housing roughly 25,000 people, shook below our feet. I peered out the window from our top-floor office and watched a large orange fireball rise from across the building. Billowing black smoke rose with the flames.

I quickly grabbed my bag and remember standing in the middle of the office. I was a young Air Force captain working for two colonels, neither of which were exhibiting much sense of urgency — one was finishing up a phone call and the other composing an email. To me, however, even in the absence of alarms or evacuation orders, it seemed appropriate to get out — the building was under direct terrorist attack. With so many trying to simultaneously depart the building, long lines ensued. The stairwell was dimly lit by emergency lighting. I needed to descend five stories, and it was gridlock due to the volume of people trying to exit. So many emotions filled my head, uncertainty, fear, anger. Given that there were two aircraft involved in the New York attack, I wondered, was a second airplane was about to crash through the Pentagon walls?

Once outside the building, I will never forget the unmistakable smell of jet fuel; the exit from which I had emerged was directly downwind from the point of impact. I ran into an exasperated friend who exclaimed, “Houston, you will not believe what I just saw … an airliner flew directly into the side of the building.” Large crowds milled around the parking lots. False rumors spread. “There’s another airplane inbound headed to the capitol.” Others claimed the White House was next. Within minutes F-16s from the D.C. Air National Guard flew a couple of low passes. In the absence of smartphones, the flow of information ceased while away from television or radio. Even cell phones were useless given the overwhelming demand. Any chance of communication would require a landline, so I drove home.

After several attempts, my phone call to my then-girlfriend (now my beautiful wife) Lisa finally went through. She was relieved to learn of my safety having closely followed the day’s events. Of note, my sweet mother subsequently often reminds me of my decision to call my girlfriend before her, as she was also keenly concerned for my safety — fair critique. Three days later Lisa would provide a perspective I would never forget on the importance of airpower.

After coming home from dinner, I walked her up to her apartment door. In the distance we heard the dull roar of the F-16 fighter aircraft flying their combat air patrol over the D.C. skies — with all other aircraft still grounded, their sound was most distinctive. Having spent hundreds of hours flying the F-16, I opined about what must have been going through the minds …read more

Source:: The Denver Post

      

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