ACSC ceremony marks 9/11 anniversary
Air Command and Staff College student Maj. Mary Carnes places a flag in display paying tribute to those lost on Sept. 11. (Air Force photo/Chris Baldwin)
by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs
9/16/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Al -- Ten years later, Air Command and Staff College leaders and students remember where they were Sept. 11, 2001. They shared their stories during a remembrance ceremony Sept. 9 at 7:46 a.m., marking the time Flight 11 hit the north tower of the World Trade Center.
For many, the first reaction to the attacks was disbelief.
Brig. Gen. Stephen Denker, ACSC commandant, remembered going to sleep after a night shift at Aerospace Data Facility-Colorado at Buckley AFB, Colo., and waking up to the phone ringing. After hearing that a plane hit the World Trade Center, "I thought it was nothing more than an accident and went back to sleep," he said.
His phone kept ringing. He finally turned on the television, and "I sat in horror and watched the towers fall," he said.
Student Maj. Patrice Holmes was driving to work in Colorado Springs and was surprised by the security at the gate for an exercise. She even commented to the guard that it was a little excessive.
"He said two planes just hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon is on fire," she said. From the expression on his face, she knew this was true.
A call to action
When the reality and scope of the attacks settled in, Airmen were moved to respond.
Col. Rhea Dobson, ACSC vice commandant, was in his office in Germany planning a search and rescue training mission when he heard the news.
When the terrorists took credit for the attacks, "None of the big names that came out were a surprise," he said. He knew the names through his experience in special operations in the '90s combating terrorism, he said.
From his perspective, the attacks caused "the rest of America to wake up and let us loose," to fight terror, Dobson said.
Holmes remembered the focus of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, turning inward, monitoring all aircraft within the nation's borders as opposed to looking for threats from other countries. The doors of Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado closed when officials feared it could be a target.
"We didn't know how many targets there were or who would be next, but we understood we were under attack," she said.
Maj. Francis Radiff, from the Canadian air force, also remembers assisting with an air response. He and crews around Canada prepared in case of additional attacks and assisted American flights redirected northward.
"Our good friends to the south were blindsided," he said, and Canada was there to help.
The emotional impact
Lt. Col. Pierre De Goumoens, a student from the Swiss air force and the international officers' class president, was in a control tower during a training mission when he heard of the plane crashes.
"The United States was attacked, and the world was shocked and hurt," he said.
He remembers telling his crew of the attacks after they landed, saying "The world has changed during your mission." No one knew what to do, and they felt powerless, he said.
As Denker headed into work that day, he saw a woman and her children playing in their front yard. "How surreal is this image as I headed to work, knowing the world has just changed," he said.
Though their jobs with the military were important, most of them wanted to be with their families. "When we returned home, we all kissed our wives a little more sweetly and hugged our children more tightly," Radiff said.
During the ceremony, Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Quinn sang the national anthem, and Clara Walenga sang "Amazing Grace" over a montage of images from the aftermath, including a photo of Bush thanking first responders at ground zero and the memorial at the Pentagon.
Chaplain (Maj.) Steven Dabbs gave the invocation, asking for "comfort for each person this day that grieves the loss of a loved one who fell as victim in the struggle against terror."
The ceremony concluded with the distribution of small American flags to be placed around memorials in the courtyard as a visual tribute.