I, along with the rest ofAmerica, could not have foreseen the events of September 11, 2001. I will never forget watching the news coverage immediately following the impact of the first plane into the World Trade center. After watching the television in disbelief for a few moments, all pilots were called into a briefing room. We were briefed on the course of action that the Air Force was implementing immediately. As I sat in the briefing room listening to what we were about to do, and the consequences of our possible actions, I realized that the world, as I knew it, had just changed.
It did not take long before a large majority of our F/A 18 Hornets where either sent airborne or were set on immediate alert to protect against any further attacks. There are a great number of stories from my colleagues of how busy air traffic control was while trying to gain control of the large group of Airliners and other commercial air traffic that needed to be redirected to land. For the most part, all of my peers speak of the incredible job air traffic control did in managing that overwhelming task.
At times confusion prevailed while both pilots and air traffic control personnel tried to understand what was required of them, but in the end the professionalism of the aviation industry as a whole achieved a safe and effective outcome to a devastating day. It would not be appropriate of me to share exact details of our actions on September 11, 2001 nor in the days following it — but needless to say it was a very busy time for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, of which fighter jets play a big part.
Other than fighter jets, and a few other military aircraft, flying around the North American skies were deadly quiet in the aftermath of that historic day.
The rules of the game had just changed and my role as a Fighter pilot, while arriving at my first operational fighter squadron, now took on a new focus. North American Defense had always been something that Fighter pilots trained to achieve, but up to that point it had not really been stressed in my training sorties. It quickly became a focus as my continuing combat training took place on my operational squadron. TheUSAandCanadahave enjoyed a working relationship under the NORAD agreement since 1957 to protect our combined North American airspace. This agreement is mutually beneficial considering the vast amount of airspace that these 2 countries have to protect. It was now my turn to do my part in protecting our skies, and I was up for the challenge.
In the years that followed I contributed my time holding quick reaction alert status to protect against any attacks againstNorth America, on numerous occasions. I was like a fireman waiting for something to happen but luckily a repeat of 9/11 has not happened since. My fellow Fighter pilots and I took turns holding this increased alert status throughout each day of the year. While on those long shifts I would routinely take advantage of my time by reading my tactical manuals and preparing for future missions. Just because I had graduated from my training squadron did not mean that I could stop learning the art of being a Fighter pilot. I had a deep desire to be the best Fighter pilot that I could be and that desire fueled me to constantly push myself to the next level in my flying proficiency.
I was incredibly fortunate that my Commanding Officer on my first operational fighter squadron was also my flight commander while I was a flight instructor years before. He was an incredible leader and I credit him with not only me being selected to commence the advanced jet course prior to obtaining my jet wings but I also credit him for molding me into the mature Fighter pilot that I became at the end of my career.
The squadron that I belonged to had a great deal of skilled pilots and, at that time, we were arguably the most competent fighter squadron in the Air Force. That fact was largely due to the leadership of my Commanding Officer. He consistently led by example and, because he was such a gifted pilot himself, the rest of us were constantly trying to better ourselves so that we performed at his level. I loved going to work; it was a very fun and exciting time to be a Fighter pilot. We were a tight group and collectively we did everything together. Weekends consisted of squadron BBQs, or any other reason that would bring us together on a Saturday afternoon, which generally ended with all of the pilots congregating in the kitchen to talk about flying. Whether or not it was fate, this family of pilots was the Air Force’s version of a Dream Team.