Putting 9-11 Into Personal Perspective

Once again, it all comes down to me.
 
14 years ago today I woke up early (Alaska time) for some reason, flipped on the TV (which I never did when I woke up), turned to CNN (which was also odd, because I rarely watched the news- I prefer print media), and watched the reports of the plane hitting the World Trade Center. While I watched, the second plane hit, and I knew we were being attacked.
 
Within a week I was deployed to support a squadron of F-15Es in South Korea while the aircraft carrier in the region headed to the Gulf. I was lucky, because a lot of guys were headed to Afghanistan and later Iraq to do something about the situation we found ourselves in as a nation.
 
I was ending an enlistment within a year, and the Air Force had elected to deny my request to remain in Alaska in favor of a lot of people who hated it up here. Instead, I was headed back to Florida. I hate the Gulf Coast with a passion, having spent the longest two years of my life in Florida. Flat, hot, humid, insect- and redneck-infested... it was just a bad fit. I started looking for other options, and someone mentioned looking into the Air National Guard. I knew nothing about it other than it was a bunch of guys who showed up for work once a month and never had to go to Florida unless they wanted to. With nothing to lose, I talked to a recruiter.
 
It turned out a unit was being transitioned to the Air National Guard, staffed entirely by full-time guardsmen. You mean I get to stay in Alaska as long as I want to? Sign me up. My office moved 2 blocks, I had to change a single patch on my uniform, and my retirement actually got better.
 
That unit was the kind that watched antiquated green scopes every day, looking for bad guys flying aircraft at the United States. My job was to maintain that outdated system. On 9-11, units like this were looking outwards for an invasion, while the terrorists, in a stroke of evil genius, had highjacked themselves their own air force from within our borders and turned them into cruise missiles. Some people had warned of this possibility in the past, but it really wasn't part of the the national defense consciousness. We'd won the Cold War. We'd beat up Saddam. The homeland defense mission wasn't one that anyone was throwing money at.
 
That antiquated system was the result of that lack of attention. It was so slow you could almost see the digital 1s and 0s roll by, and it was an art form to maintain. Sometimes a fix action was standing on one foot and holding your tongue just right. The support had dried up years before, and we would source parts from anywhere, including eBay. For electronics mechanics like the guys initially hired by the Guard to support it, it was a fun challenge. You were always busy putting out fires and keeping the air picture active, because suddenly a lot of people cared. The money followed, as did new equipment, roles, and responsibilities. The only constant in life is change.
 
A couple years from now they'll put me out to pasture. They call it retirement, but I call it time to get a real job. I have a toddler to support for a while, so I'm slowly finishing a meaningless degree before starting on one that actually provides a sustainable income and hopefully a sense of purpose and usefulness. That would be nice.

14 years ago a bunch of radicals stoked a fire that has spread in ways they could have never foreseen. The world will be dealing with the effects for a long time after I'm gone. I have no idea where society would be today if they hadn't. It really doesn't matter at this point, because there's nothing we can do to change the past.
 
The events that happened on that day are something I wish weren't a touchstone, a point used as justification for all sorts of things I don't agree with. I wish it was just another day. Eventually, human nature will reduce the date to just another number school kids will learn, placed in a context that we probably can't even see now. It will be history.

On the personal side, I probably wouldn't have gotten out of the active duty Air Force. I would have left Alaska. I would have never met my wife, or had my children. I would have never been able to ski so much or so badly. The skiing would have never led to me road bike racing. I wouldn't be who I am today. I'm not sure who I would be. Again, it doesn't matter.
 
I'm still here.

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