FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – At approximately 10:03 a.m. Sept. 11, 2001, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field in western Pennsylvania. Within hours, Soldiers and Airmen from the Pennsylvania National Guard were activated as part of the nation's response to the terrorist attacks.
For months, the Pennsylvania National Guard played a key role in the response to the attacks. It continues to be among the most active National Guards in the country 20 years later.
"When Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville on 9/11, the Pennsylvania National Guard was immediately thrust into the nation's response to the attacks," said Maj. Gen. Mark Schindler, Pennsylvania adjutant general. "In the days and weeks that followed, our Soldiers and Airmen performed numerous missions, and some remained on duty for over six months providing security at airports and nuclear power plants throughout the commonwealth."
Immediately after the terrorist jetliner attacks in Pennsylvania, at the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the Pennsylvania National Guard Joint Emergency Operations Center at Fort Indiantown Gap and all task force operations centers across the commonwealth were mobilized to operational status.
Friedens Armory in Somerset County was assigned as a morgue site for the crash site of Flight 93. Guard members provided communications and security support there until operations concluded Oct. 3, 2001.
In the days following the attacks, Pennsylvania National Guard helicopter crews transporting people and supplies to and from various locations, including the Pentagon and New York City.
One of those missions was transporting Gov. Tom Ridge to the Flight 93 crash site.
Col. Keith Graham, then a second lieutenant, was a CH-47 Chinook pilot about five months out of flight school when he got the mission to fly Ridge and Maj. Gen. William Lynch, then adjutant general, to the crash site.
At the time, Graham was a member of Company G, 104th Aviation Regiment. He was the pilot and Chief Warrant Officer 4 John Cross, now retired, was the pilot-in-command.
Graham, now the Pennsylvania Army National Guard chief of staff, recalled he was more focused on the mission that day than he was on the significance of 9/11 or who his passengers were.
"There was a lot of changes that day to normal operations, so I was focused more on how we were supposed to fly in the national airspace because at that point, it was all locked down," he said. "Things were very regulated because they shut down all the airspace, so it was a challenge for us to figure out how to get off the ground. I was a young pilot at the time. I was just trying not to screw up."
After flying over the crash site, Graham landed the Chinook a short distance away to avoid disturbing anything on the ground.
"We didn't want to interfere with the crash site," he said. "As we came in, we did an aerial surveillance of it, and then we selected a safe location far enough away that we wouldn't disturb any of the debris field to land."
Twenty years later, Graham remembers how terrible a day it was for everybody.
"It was surreal," he said. "I remember feeling angry about what had occurred. It led to the next 20 years of our existence, basically."
Elsewhere, Pennsylvania National Guard members conducted a variety of missions in the aftermath of 9/11.
Twelve chaplains and chaplain's assistants provided spiritual support to recovery workers, families and colleagues of victims at the Pentagon.
About 130 Guard members assisted with security at Pennsylvania's 16 commercial airports.
The 171st Air Refueling Wing in Pittsburgh supplied more than 250,000 pounds of fuel while flying 12 sorties.
The 111th Fighter Wing, now the 111th Attack Wing, sent members from four squadrons across the globe in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Noble Eagle.
The 193rd Special Operations Wing deployed members in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The 193rd SOW flies and maintains EC-130 Command Solo aircraft, which broadcasted messages to the Afghan people.
Military police from the 111th, 171st and 193rd wings were called up and deployed to various airbases across the United States to augment security forces.
Overall, Pennsylvania National Guard members have deployed more than 42,300 times since 9/11. The deployments have included combat, peacekeeping and training missions and have been to numerous countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, Bosnia and Kosovo.
"Whenever and wherever they were needed, our Soldiers and Airmen honorably served their communities, commonwealth and country," Schindler said.