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    Remembering 9/11: Along the way, events inspire airmen to serve, achieve more

    Remembering 9/11: Along the way, events inspire airmen to serve, achieve more

    Photo By Scott Sturkol | Firefighters from the 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department...... read more read more

    SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. - A decade after the events of 9/11 it might be easy to forget some of what happened that day but for many it is unlikely they will ever forget what they saw and experienced.

    The attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and a farm field near Pittsburgh marked what officials said is "the worst terrorist act" ever on American soil. The events of that day acted as a driving force for many airmen wanting to serve today at home and on deployment. Or, if they were already serving, some airmen said it made them more determined to catch those responsible for the attacks.

    'The people on those planes were my co-workers'

    One person who was directly affected by the 9/11 events was Capt. Hillary Wykes -- a KC-10 Extender pilot with the 9th Air Refueling Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. She worked as a flight attendant for United Airlines before entering the Air Force.

    "I was working for United on Sept. 11 when the airplanes hit the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and crashed in the field in Pennsylvania," said Wykes. "The people on those planes were my co-workers. My whole world changed."

    Instead of preparing for a career in the civilian aviation industry, she entered the Air Force. Wykes said that not long after Sept. 11, she was laid off from her flight attendant position and made a decision that changed her life.

    "After I got laid-off, I hadn't planned on entering the military... it just sort of happened," Wykes said. "I'm proud to serve my country. I am proud to protect it."

    On Nov. 1, 2009, Wykes flew her 100th combat sortie in the KC-10 with many of those sorties being completed over Afghanistan from a non-disclosed base in Southwest Asia. "It used to be, during the Vietnam-era, once a pilot had a 100 combat sorties they got to go home. And while this doesn't hold true today, it is still an important milestone in my flying career."

    Wykes added, "As a KC-10 pilot, we fly combat missions in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. We refuel a variety of fighter, bomber, reconnaissance and tanker aircraft that support war efforts on the ground, including aircraft in support of troops in contact and strike assists. As a tanker aircraft, we also support U.S. and coalition aircraft."

    'Plumes of black smoke filled the corridor'

    Before he retired from the Air Force in August 2008, Master Sgt. Dean Steele worked as a contingency skills training instructor and manager with the 421st Combat Training Squadron, U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

    In his nearly four years at the Expeditionary Center, Steele used his experience as a Combat Camera videographer to train airmen for deployments. He said he also used his experience of being in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, to push forward in doing his best at his work.

    "At the time the attacks started, I was working in the Air Force Television Service Center editing a video program in the center's control room," Steele said. "The control room has the capability to monitor all of the network feeds for major television news stations such as CNN, Fox, NBC, ABC and CBS.

    "One of the engineers came into the edit suite and told me what had just happened in New York," Steele said. "He told me that an airplane just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers and that it was on the news. We went to the control room and we watched the monitors standing there in disbelief that something like that could happen."

    Steele said as he and others watched the news, they saw the second plane fly into the the other World Trade Center tower.

    "That is when we all knew that it was no mistake," Steele said. "We watched the news for about 15 minutes then and we went back to work."

    Like many others working in the Pentagon that day, Steele said no one imagined their building was the next terrorist target. "The engineer was keeping us informed on what the news was reporting. He told us there was another plane that was missing and they did not know where it was heading."

    About 10 minutes later, he heard the rumble, then explosion, and, "felt the building shake" from the plane crashing into the Pentagon. "Everyone in the studio stopped what they were doing," Steele said. "We all knew what had just happened, but we didn't know where the plane hit -- we just knew that it had hit the building."

    The immediate response was to evacuate the building. "As we opened the door to leave, plumes of black smoke filled the corridor. We headed toward the south parking exit. There were people praying, crying and some people were just standing not knowing what to do."

    The retired master sergeant said as he and others were moving out of the building, he noticed a person who needed help. "I noticed people in front of me stepping over a woman as she was curled on the floor in the corridor," he said. "As I approached her, she was calling for someone to please help her so she could make it out of the building. People just moved past her, as if she was not there. When I reached her, I helped her to her feet and walked with her out of the building."

    As a combat camera airman, Steele has deployed to hostile areas throughout his career, however what he experienced that day was not something he was prepared to experience. "When you deploy, you know that there is a possibility of something happening. But when you're home in the United States, you don't go to work thinking that there could be an attack."

    That's why he will never forget what happened to him that day.

    "It is important all of us remember that day," Steele said. "Not only has it affected us in many ways such as the economy, world image and the way we travel, but also in who we are. That day changed my life and I will never forget those who left us that day. That will stay with me as long as I live."

    Wykes and Steele are but two mobility airmen who had the events of Sept. 11, change their lives. In Air Mobility Command, many the events made operations tempo increase significantly, statistics show.

    At the end of 2001, air mobility had a significant contribution to Operation Noble Eagle, AMC history shows. Tankers -- both KC-135s and KC-10 Extenders -- had flown 3,199 missions and their receivers numbered at 9,822. On one peak day in 2001 supporting the operation, tankers flew 74 missions in a 24-hour period.

    "During those first months of the contingency, AMC also had 228 airlift missions, delivered 2,189 passengers and moved more than 1,490 short tons of cargo," the history shows.

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 09.07.2011
    Date Posted: 09.07.2011 16:09
    Story ID: 76598
    Location: SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, IL, US 

    Web Views: 73
    Downloads: 0

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