9/11 - An Emergency Call for America
The day that changed our nation
It was the second Tuesday in September — a day marked on my calendar for months.
Every second Tuesday of the month, I took my 18-month-old son to the Randolph Air Force Base Child Development Center (CDC) for four fabulous hours of free childcare, a benefit for military parents who had a spouse overseas. My husband was away on a one-year tour in Korea.
I woke up excited that day — I could run without a jogging stroller and take a long, uninterrupted shower. It was a welcome break for a single parent of a toddler.
After dropping off my son promptly at 0800, I drove home, exercised, showered, and was preparing to leave for errands when the phone rang. It was around 0930 CST, and the caller was a friend, another military spouse. She asked if I was watching the news.
I hadn’t had the TV or radio on all morning.
When I turned on the television, I was shocked by the footage. I stood in stunned silence while holding the phone to my ear. Neither of us spoke.
After several minutes, I said, “I have to call my husband.”
It was the early morning hours in Seoul, Korea when I phoned my spouse. He answered after several rings, having been sound asleep, and I told him, “Something terrible is happening here. Planes are being hijacked.” I gave him the few details I had from watching the news, but there were still so many unknowns.
I remember my husband saying, “I better find out what is happening. I will call you as soon as I can.” I didn’t hear from him again for 48 hours.
After the phone call, I decided to pick up my son early from childcare since I didn’t want to be alone. When I arrived at Randolph AFB, it was about 1015, and there was a long line of cars outside the base gate.
The gate was closed with heavily armed security forces everywhere, an unusual sight at the time.
I sat there for what seemed like hours, but probably just minutes before I realized they were not opening the gate. Grabbing my military I.D., I jumped out of the car and hurried to the entrance. I hoped they would allow me to walk on base to pick up my child.
From a distance, the security officer told me the base was locked down until further notice, and I was to return to my vehicle. I quickly explained that my 18-month-old son was at the childcare center. The guard was apologetic, but there was nothing he could do. No one was getting on or off base.
Back at my car, the shock I had been feeling for the last hour gave way to a flood of tears. Our nation was under attack, my husband was in Korea, and I was separated from my toddler. I felt alone and completely helpless.
After the initial surge of emotions, I realized my son was probably in the safest place he could be right then.
Eventually, a gate guard walked to my car and asked why I needed access to the base. I explained that I was trying to pick up my child from the “Give Parents a Break” program at the CDC. The guard knew that meant my spouse was overseas, and I remember him being very kind.
He reassured me that parents picking up their children would be one of the first groups allowed on base when it reopened.
I don’t recall how long I waited outside the gate. I do remember listening to the radio and trying to piece together what was happening and what this might mean for our nation and my military family.
At some point, people who lived on base and those picking up children were allowed through the gates. It was eerily silent on the installation with very few cars on the roads and lots of military police.
When I arrived at the CDC and saw my son, the relief was indescribable.
In a crisis, it helps to be with a loved one. It would be many long months before I would see my spouse again.
Twenty-one years ago, the military community — my community — abruptly changed.
We were a nation at war on multiple fronts, and frequent deployments became commonplace. It was a rapid shift from training to action. Thousands of citizens set aside careers to enlist.
Today, our service members have left Afghanistan, but Afghanistan may never leave them. Time will tell if all the sweat and suffering made a difference in that distant land.
Twenty-one years ago, we were a unified nation. In the months following the attack on American soil, our populace was especially vigilant to threats, and the city streets felt safer than they had in a long time.
Today, violence has erupted in our communities, and we no longer protect those around us.
Twenty-one years ago, members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol and sang “God Bless America." It was a symbol of strength, unity, and leadership.
Today, our country is polarized and suffering. We struggle with whether or not to play the National Anthem at public events.
Twenty-one years ago, I took my young son to daycare, like many others that day.
Today, he is a senior in college. He has no personal memories of 9/11, but I often remind him of where he was that day and how scared I felt to be separated from him.
As we reflect on this tragic moment in our nation’s history, I hope we remember the sacrifices made by a few to protect many.
Although much has changed in twenty-one years, this has not. We are a stronger nation when we work together than when we pull apart.
This story was first published on Medium.
About the Creator
Jill (Conquering Cognitions)
Outdoor Enthusiast | Animal Lover | Mom to Five | Psychologist Turned Writer
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