For days Americans have relived the horrors of the 9/11/01 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as the heroic battle by passengers against Islamic Terrorists aboard American Airlines Flight 93 over Pennsylvania. It is appropriate that we remember those innocent individuals who lost their lives and honor those who risked and lost their lives in the rescue efforts. What, if anything, have we learned from this traumatic experience? Could it happen again, if so, will we be prepared?
Most of the stories of heroics have come from New York, the scene of the greatest loss of life and the scene of hundreds of first responders being lost doing their job in a dangerous situation. Relatives of passengers in the Pennsylvania crash made sure the heroics of their loved ones were not forgotten. These passengers are rightly credited with preventing their American Airlines plane from crashing into the U. S. Capitol or the White House. Fewer stories of heroism have reached the public from the Pentagon, although almost 200 lives were lost and many heroic acts were performed. It is easy for the media to rationalize that military personnel are expected to be heroic and to die for their country if necessary.
Events that took place at Andrews Air Force Base on 9/11 illustrate both the dedication of American Military personnel and the lack of support sometimes provided by their civilian leaders.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States began dismantling the air defense system. An Air National Guard unit equipped with F-16 aircraft was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base. They had no mission other than training. National Guard units have two chains of command, one to the state and one to the pentagon. This was a District of Columbia guard unit. They had no state to report to and the Pentagon was under attack.
On 9/11, four F-16 pilots were on duty at Andrews. Three of four hijacked planes had already hit their targets. The commander of the Air National Guard unit knew someone needed to stop the fourth plane before it hit the Capitol or White House, which were logical targets, but he was unable to establish communications with anyone to give him authority to launch flights.
None of the F-16s were armed. A decision was made to launch two planes without weapons while the other two were armed with heat seeking missiles. A young female pilot just out of F-16 basic flight school and a more experienced male pilot were ordered to take to the air, find the hijacked airliner and by whatever means available prevent it from reaching Washington, D.C.
Their only choice was to use their planes as missiles and ram the airliner. The male pilot would aim at the cockpit, the young female lieutenant agreed to take off the tail of the airliner. They searched the area north and west of Washington and turned back several planes, but the airliner they were to stop went down in Pennsylvania before they found it.
They were required to carry out a suicide mission to prevent another airliner from crashing into their nation’s capitol. Recently, the lieutenant, now a major, was asked if she thought about ejecting from the plane before it hit the airliner. She said it crossed her mind, but the thought of ejecting and then missing the target caused her to dismiss the thought immediately. Members of the U.S. military are called on to sacrifice their lives every day. They must not be forgotten.
Since 11 September 2001 there have been some 40 attempted terrorist attacks on the United States. Most have been aborted before they caused loss of life. Most have taken place in the past three years. Some have targeted military recruiters or other military personnel in uniform. The most horrendous took place at Fort Hood, Texas, and has been handled by the Obama Administration as a criminal rather than a terrorist act.
Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the Obama Administration is planning to cut the US Military to dangerously low levels. This and the unwise announcement and reduction of troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan for domestic political purposes will result in unnecessary loss of American lives.
Islamic radicals plan to kill Americans here and overseas. We need a President and Congress who recognize that fact and learned from 9/11.