I’ve only recently begun calling it “The night I grew up”. It was night for us at that time and it was my first deployment. I was aboard USS Enterprise as an Intelligence Specialist 3rd Class (IS3) assigned to VF-41 Black Aces. My duties involved assisting in mission planning, briefing and de-briefing aircrews, and reporting on any information the air-wing and ship had gathered during our cruise in order to ensure the Battle-Group commander was able to maintain situational awareness.
We were cruising out of the Persian Gulf after finishing our stint patrolling southern Iraq; Operation Southern Watch. We were planning on hitting port in South Africa, I forget the specific place, but by 9/11 we weren’t too far off the Horn of Africa. I was off watch and on the computer emailing friends and family when I heard the Today Show mention that something had happened at the World Trade Center. The TV was off to my left… I can remember it pretty clear… I can’t remember which tower it was, but I looked at the footage and saw that big black mark. I remember thinking that it must’ve been an accident. Prior to my deployment there were news reports flying around regarding problems with Air Traffic Control. I figured that this was the culmination of that; some ATC controller guided a jet into the World Trade Center.
When I saw the second plane hit… I can’t say I was smart enough to immediately realize what was going on. I thought that maybe I was seeing a preview to some movie. It wasn’t until someone else in CVIC (Carrier Vessel Intelligence Center) said that our nation was under attack that it hit me. The rest was a blur… I emailed my folks and friends (who were in the D.C. area) around the time we heard that the Pentagon was hit… I tried to call my folks… that didn’t work so I headed back up to the CVIC. At that time I saw the first tower fall. I remember falling into a chair repeating: “all those people”. Enterprise turned around… I remember feeling her heel over and we pushed to flank speed… heading back. Adding to it all was hearing that another flight, turned out it was 93, had gone down in Pennsylvania.
It’s been 17 years, so I can’t remember who exactly it was, but one of the intel officers came in and told us to break out all available charts (maps) that we had of Afghanistan. We all knew who it was.
A colleague, a dude that never seemed bothered by anything, was worried about his mom… he broke down when command secured comms off ship. Later on he found out that his mother was ok. I found out that my family and friends were ok. Enterprise raced, at full speed, to what would become our AO for the next few weeks. I still remember feeling the ship vibrate. Ironically, even through all of what we had witnessed, I got one of the best nights of sleep I can remember.
The next morning I made my way up to Crow’s Nest after wandering the hanger deck. We were alongside USS Carl Vinson, who was to be our OSW (Operation Southern Watch) relief, transferring equipment, supplies, and personnel. We were awaiting orders. At that point, I remember thinking that the world was forever changed. Vinson took day, we [Enterprise] took night. By Oct 7th we were rollin… I was in the p-way when Capt. Winnefeld gave, what I consider to be, one of those historic speeches. I can’t remember it verbatim, but I can remember the comparison that he drew to our Enterprise of 2001, and the Enterprise of 1941… our ship, our crew, made history, carried the legacy and took the fight to our enemy (people and maybe history say Vinson was first because she took the day shift… I don’t care, Enterprise and CAG-8 hit where and when it counted). Ultimately, things were very different from when I was a recently turned 21 year old kid roughly 24 hours before. Turns out that they still are.
Looking back, on the one hand I can say I’m proud to be among the many first responders to that event. However, on the other hand, I’m saddened by the loss of so many lives on that day and since… I suppose that’s just the way things go. We don’t have as much control as we might wish we did. From that day I’ve served in OEF, OIF, and at Guantanamo Bay. I’ve witnessed, and heard, of many lives lost. Lives that I’ve personally and professionally known, and the lives of those that were just trying to make their way. It is what it is.
At least I grew up.