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A Triumph of Human Dignity

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. John Wilkes
  • 180th Fighter Wing
Never forget. These are the words often used to convey the importance of Sept. 11, 2001, in our country's history. Fifteen years ago, nearly 3,000 innocent lives were lost. They were parents, children, friends, family and loved ones.

Service members and civilians alike will mark the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11.
For U.S. Air Force Col. Scott Reed, vice wing commander of the 180th Fighter Wing in Swanton, Ohio, it started out as a normal day.

"I was preparing for my afternoon sortie and I heard down the hall that the TV was very loud, which was unusual," said Reed. "I went down the hall to check what was happening and CNN was on. One of the World Trade Centers was on fire. I saw an airplane had hit the World Trade Center and I thought it had to be a mistake from a small airplane. Shortly after that there was another aircraft impact and that's when we knew it was intentional."

Not long after, the 180FW received a call from the Eastern Air Defense Sector, the unit responsible for countering air threats in the Eastern United States, directing the wing to get two planes airborne immediately.

"At the time, we weren't exactly sure why [we were flying] but we got out to the airplanes, taxied out and were cleared for takeoff," said Reed. "We headed toward Cleveland and were ordered to do intercepts, or get all other aircraft landed. We were flying for so long we had to do an aerial refueling. We intercepted a few more aircraft and got them to land. At this point there are no aircraft in the sky, no one is moving at the Cleveland Airport. We called back to the operations desk at the 180FW and were told to go to Selfridge Air National Guard Base and pick up live missiles and take them back to the 180FW to get more aircraft ready to fly."

After landing back at the 180FW, Reed saw fellow Airmen setting up tents, sand bag battle positions and communication points on the flight line. At this point, it wasn't clear whether the attacks would last hours, days, weeks or months. A few days later service members with the 180FW resumed mission operations, though many lives would never be the same.

"I was in New York City on 9/11," said Capt. Carolina Wishner, public health officer at the 180FW. "I lived in a building and in the apartment I was hearing a lot of noises, a lot of ambulances and I knew something was wrong. I turned on the TV and saw that the first plane hit the tower."

"Instantly, I took my camera and went to the hospital close to us and told them that I am a [doctor] from Panama City," continued Wishner. "I am trained in triage and I can help. They said we will put you on a team and send you very close to the World Trade Center. My English was not very good but luckily a person on my team spoke Spanish. We got a car, filled it with the supplies we needed and drove close to the World Trade Center. We made a triage area for nurses, doctors and people helping and it was amazing how we worked together to help people. I worked in that area for nine consecutive days."

"One month before Sept. 11, 2001, I was visiting the towers and I remember the people working that day," she said. "After 9/11, I always remember and can't believe it happened to them. You are more appreciative of everything you have, your family, your job and every day you have."

Immediately after, Wishner, who was not yet a U.S. citizen, had to return to Panama City as part of her Green Card application process through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department, but Wishner's passion to serve was ignited by the events she experienced on 9/11.

"I wanted to join the military before that but I didn't have my citizenship," she said. "After 9/11, I was convinced that I would join."

In remembrance of these tragic events, members of the 180FW envisioned a tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11 and the aftermath that followed.

The Northwest Ohio 9/11 Memorial, currently under construction at the 180FW, will consist of beams from the World Trade Centers, limestone from the Pentagon and soil from the Pennsylvania field where Flight 93 crashed. Glass ingots, one for each life lost, will be incorporated into the display as well. The memorial is encompassed by a clock face with podiums marking the time of each significant event.

"It is important to have a memorial because we need to honor these people whose lives were ended suddenly," said Wishner. "They were taken away from their families and loved ones. We need to teach our kids to value the lives of every person in this country and every person in the world."

Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in the attacks on 9/11. More than 6,800 U.S. service members have been killed and more than 52,000 were wounded in the aftermath.

"The acts of terror of Sept. 11, 2001, sought to do more than hurt our people and bring down buildings: They sought to break our spirit and destroy the enduring values that unite us as Americans," said President Barack Obama during his presidential proclamation declaring Sept. 11 as Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance. "In the years that followed, our capacity to love and to hope has guided us forward as we worked to rebuild, more sound and resilient than ever before."

For Wishner, the events she experienced will have a lasting impact for the rest of her life.

"Never forget is something that unifies everyone, even around the world," said Wishner. "We should never let this go or forget those moments. Never forget that there were innocent people and their lives were taken away. The memorial will hopefully bring out the good inside of people."