The morning everything changed

  • Published
  • By Col. Mary Aldrian
  • 452nd Air Mobility Wing
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was at home in Murrieta with my 3-year-old and 6-month-old sons. My husband is a United Airline pilot and he was on a trip with a layover in Hawaii. He called me around 7 a.m. and told me to turn on the news. I was in shock and could not take my eyes from the news broadcast.

After the initial shock wore off, the next call I made was to my mom. She has three sisters who live in New York and I have many cousins who live and work in New York City. I knew one of them worked in one of the twin towers. Thankfully, he had not been there on Sept. 11., but he lost many of his co-workers that day.

In our country's history, there are certain moments of such profound shock and gravity that they are burned into the collective memory of every American. In 1963, it was the moment President Kennedy was assassinated. A younger generation might recall watching live footage of the launching of the Persian Gulf War's first missiles in 1990. Older generations will recall being glued to the radio in 1941 as President Roosevelt gave his "infamy speech" the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

9/11 is the most recent--freshest--of these moments. Even if we didn't personally experience having a loved one not come home that night, the moment we learned about 9/11 is nevertheless etched into our memories in slow motion and with hyper-aware detail.

This is true even more so for members of the military. Even the youngest Airmen in our service today are old enough to have a memory of that fateful day. For many, 9/11 was the impetus for joining or re-joining the military.

I had left active duty just three months before 9/11. I had two young children with whom I was hoping to spend more time, but I also wanted to continue my military career flying KC-135s, so I joined the Air Force Reserve. When 9/11 happened, I was thankful that I was a member of the Reserves. Even though it would mean sacrifices for my family, to serve when this nation needs us the most is very rewarding, and I wanted to be part of it.

The week after 9/11 was a blur. My husband was stuck on his trip for seven days and I had my mother-in-law on call to watch my children if my Reserve unit was called. I was glued to the news, preparing for a possible deployment while trying to keep up the routine for my children.

Like me, those who were serving in the military before 9/11 have seen a drastic change over the past decade. The reserves transitioned from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve. "Two weeks a year and one weekend a month" for a reservist is a thing of the past. Our country continually asks more and more from our reservists and I don't see that changing. Thankfully for this nation, we have some incredibly dedicated individuals who continually volunteer and sacrifice to do what is asked of them.

This Sunday marks the ten year anniversary of the coordinated attacks on Washington D.C., New York City and the averted Flight 93 attack.

My sons are now 13 and 10 and I have a daughter who is 7. My sons don't remember anything from Sept. 11, 2001, but they do understand it is one of the reasons why I have been deployed. If you asked them about what happened on 9/11, my boys would tell you that some bad guys came into our country and flew some planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and killed a lot of people and we can't let that happen again.

I can still remember that morning so clearly and knew our lives would be changed forever. I think one of the most important lessons we can take from 9/11, as well the natural disasters in recent years, is to be prepared. For military members, be physically and mentally prepared and have all your affairs in order (powers of attorney, wills, etc.). Have a plan in place for your family if you are called to deploy on a moment's notice.

With the community throwing us the 39th Annual Military Appreciation Picnic, this is a weekend for fellowship and the celebration of a year of hard work, but it is also a weekend to remember the 2,975 victims of 9/11 who perished exactly ten years ago. At 9:11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11, the 452nd Air Mobility Wing chaplains will host a 9/11 remembrance ceremony in LeMay Park. I encourage you to attend, and if your family members are at the base for the combined UTA, I encourage you to bring them, too.

What happened on 9/11 will forever remain in our collective and individual experience as Americans. And for us service members, it goes a step further. In my sons' words, we are the ones dedicated to making sure it never happens again.

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