Never the same, never forgotten

Where were you when everything changed? (U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton/Released)

Where were you when everything changed? (U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton/Released)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Just another normal day across the United States, people going to work or school, until suddenly out of a clear blue sky two planes crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.

On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States.

A third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

September 11, 2001, is a date etched into the hearts and minds of the global population.

"My phone rang and it was my father who told me that the World Trade Center had been attacked," said 2nd Lt. Cameron White, 366th Comptroller Squadron financial services flight commander. "I turned the television on and watched the coverage with my mom and sisters. I remember seeing the building on fire and being completely shocked. Since I was in college at the time I decided to become an Arabic major which led me to schools in Egypt, Tunisia, and Jordan."

White, along with thousands of other Americans, made the decision to join the military due to the horrific tragedies of that fateful day.

"I am absolutely a product of the events of 9/11; it shaped my career path to this very day," he stated.

Often referred to as 9/11, the attacks resulted in extensive death and destruction, triggering major initiatives to combat terrorism.

Many Airmen from MHAFB stationed here today were serving during those tragic events and will remember that moment in time forever.

"I will never forget that day because I woke up to the morning news, and initially perceived the aircraft crash as an accident," said Tech. Sgt. J.T. May, 366th Fighter Wing NCO in charge of Public Affairs. "By the time the second plane crashed, I was in disbelief, but aware of the implications of the situation. It took me two hours to drive through the gates of Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., that day due to security."

Images of an American Airlines Boeing 767 crashing into the north tower of the World Trade Center leaving a gaping, burning hole near the 80th floor of the 110-story skyscraper, are still fresh in May's mind even 13 years later.

"My supervisor told me to have my bags back and be ready to leave in 12 hours," he said. "A flood of emotions engulfed my body, everything from anger, pride, duty and, of course, sorrow for the men and women who lost their lives."

More than 3,000 people were killed during the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Eighteen minutes after the first plane hit, a second Boeing 767-United Airlines Flight 175-appeared out of the sky, turned sharply toward the WTC and sliced into the south tower near the 60th floor. The collision caused a massive explosion that showered burning debris over surrounding buildings and the streets below.

America was under attack.

"I was ready to deploy that day," said May. "Even though I didn't, I've used that experience to power though my other deployments. It's truly an honor to serve in the United States Air Force. We are responsible for protecting the citizens of the United States of America and we take that job seriously."

As millions of citizens watched the events unfolding in New York, a third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, circled over downtown Washington, D.C., and slammed into the west side of the Pentagon military headquarters. More than 100 military personnel and civilians were killed, along with all 64 people aboard the airliner.

"I remember being in school when it happened and the teachers sat and watched it all unfold on the television with us," said Senior Airman Wes Atkins, 366th Equipment Maintenance Squadron crew chief. "We watched in horror as the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed in a massive cloud of dust and smoke."

The structural steel of the skyscrapers, built to withstand winds in excess of 200 miles per hour, could not withstand the tremendous heat generated by the burning jet fuel. Later at 10:30 a.m., the other Trade Center tower collapsed.

"The people on the fourth flight fought the terrorists, not for themselves, but for the rest of us," said White.

That fourth flight, a California-bound plane-United Flight 93, was hijacked about 40 minutes after leaving Newark International Airport in New Jersey. However, the plane had been delayed in taking off, and passengers on board learned of events in New York and Washington via cell phone and Airfone calls from and to the ground.

These brave passengers fought the four hijackers and eventually the plane crashed in a rural field in western Pennsylvania. All 45 people aboard were killed.
The intended target is still unknown.

Today, we take time to honor those brave Americans. Across the globe, people come together in remembrance of the sacrifice so many have made for the freedom we all enjoy.

The world will never be the same...and we will never forget.