ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Sept. 11, 2001, holds special meaning for Air Force reservists. Some of them were working in New York City, others were at the Pentagon and one was onboard United Flight 93.
Air Force Reserve Maj. Leroy Homer was first officer on United Flight 93. He was one of 2,973 people who perished when terrorists attacked America on that date.
The memory of the 9/11 victims is kept alive by the Americans who responded to the events of that day and by the Americans who continue to serve because of those attacks.
World Trade Center
Air Force reservists were among the first responders and ordinary citizens who took action before the attacks on the World Trade Center had ended.
Tech. Sgt. Tyree Bacon heard a commotion outside his office at the New York State Supreme Courthouse in lower Manhattan. Perceiving a "big, gaping hole of fire in one of the World Trade Center towers," Bacon took action. He and his coworkers commandeered a state jury bus and made their way 10 blocks to Ground Zero.
Describing the scene as "just utter chaos," Bacon and his co-workers looked for an emergency medical station, but there was none. They grabbed medical bags from the bus, attended to the injured and began evacuating as many people as they could.
Dan McNally, a bomb squad detective in the New York City Police Department and an Air Force reservist, rushed to the scene from his Manhattan home. He teamed up with his partner, Claude Richards, and six others. Battling through the cloud of ash, the team entered the wreckage surrounding World Trade Center Tower Two.
They directed survivors out of the plaza as they made a path to nearby World Trade Center Tower Six, hoping to find those trapped inside. Once they began clearing hallways, they knew they were playing against the odds. Three of McNally's eight-person team would perish.
Albert Lefave was downtown that day attending a two-day meeting for his civilian pharmaceutical company. Lefave, an Air Force Reserve medical technician with the 439th Airlift Wing at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass., watched in horror as the events unfolded in front of him.
"With all that was going on, you can't be that close and not go to help," he would later say.
Two other New York City police officers - traditional reservist Master Sgt. Doris Rosado and Staff Sgt. Robert Taverna - arrived at the World Trade Center to save as many lives as possible before the towers collapsed. They continued to provide security after the twin towers fell..
At 9:43 a.m. (EST), Master Sgt. Noel Sepulveda, an Air Force Reserve medical inspector with the Air Force Inspection Agency, walked across the Pentagon parking lot.
He watched in awe as American Flight 77 approached the building, diving and increasing speed. The airliner ricocheted off light poles, pitched at a 45-degree angle and then drove into the Pentagon. The explosion fired off the aircraft's engines and sent shrapnel in every direction.
The back draft threw Sepulveda into a light pole, halfway across the parking lot.
Inside the Pentagon, the deputy to the chief of Air Force Reserve, Brig. Gen. Robert Duignan, and Major Susan Lukas, a reserve advisor for legislative matters, were hosting several visiting senior leaders, who had appointments on Capitol Hill
"There was a sudden loud boom, and the building shook," Lukas said. "It sounded like a bomb. Instantly we knew we had just become part of the World Trade Center debacle.
"I turned my head toward the window and saw a white plume of smoke rising from the Pentagon. This was an important piece of information because without the smoke we wouldn't have known what part of the building we should move away from," she said.
Chief Master Sgt. Troy McIntosh, superintendent of policy integration for the Office of Air Force Reserve, was in another office nearby and described what happened as a "fight or flight" moment.
"Initially, all I could see was reams and reams of paper flying up and over the building .... Then all of the sudden, I saw the fireball," he said. "All of the flying paper ignited in mid-air. A big red and black fireball came over the building. That's when I realized that it happened."
McIntosh, Sepulveda and several other reservists, including, Capt. Bernetta Lane, Capt. Katherine Pallozzi and Col. Craig Seeber chose to stay at the building to help those evacuating as well as to attend to the injured.
United Flight 93
At 9:24 a.m. (EST), Ed Ballinger, a United Airlines controller cryptically typed a message to all American Airlines aircraft in the vicinity, warning of the air disaster in New York City.
Two minutes later, Flight 93 commanded by United Airlines Captain Jason Dahl responded. "Ed, confirm latest mssg plz--Jason."
A few minutes later, horrific sounds from the airliner came over the radio. En route from New Jersey to California, Dahl and First Officer LeRoy Homer were engaged in a fight for their lives and the safety of their passengers.
Within four minutes, the battle was over. The extremists had control of the plane.
The passengers then plotted to rush them and retake the aircraft by force. The call to action, "Let's Roll," memorialized their fight for freedom aboard their aircraft. At 9:57 a.m., they began their assault on the cockpit, and as the counterattack continued, the aircraft plowed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pa.
Throughout the day, many other Air Force reservists responded to the call for action.
Maj. Doug Lomheim and Capt. Greg Miller's E-3 Sentry training mission became re-rolled. They were instructed to return to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., where President Bush was. Their new mission was to escort the president during his return to Washington.
Air Force Reserve KC-10 tanker pilot Maj. Carlos Villela and crew were also on an early morning routine training mission from McGuire AFB, N.J. To the northeast, they had noted a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline on this clear fall day.
Villela's crew was diverted to the nation's capital, while a fellow tanker headed for New York City. In the coming hours, the KC-10 crews refueled the fighter aircraft performing combat air patrols before preparing for the return of Air Force One and its escorts later that evening.
By the end of September, nearly 6,000 Air Force reservists had either volunteered or been mobilized to defend the nation.
Call to duty
Lt. Col. Kevin Pottinger was a traditional reservist when he retired from the Air Force Reserve in May 1999. In February 2002, he came out of retirement and began flying F-16s again, deploying numerous times in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn.
In July 2006, he became the commander of the 301st Fighter Wing at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, and in April 2009 he moved to Colorado to command the Air Reserve Personnel Center. Today, Brig. Gen. Pottinger is the reserve deputy to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs in the Pentagon.
Chris Bolen was a B-52 navigator at Minot AFB, N.D., before he separated from the Air Force on Oct. 30, 1985.
After the events of 9/11, he began talking to recruiters about returning. When he could not land a B-52 navigator job, his desire to rejoin the military drove him to enlist in the Indiana Army Guard as a helicopter mechanic trainee seven after he left the Air Force.
In 2003, Staff Sgt. Bolen accepted a position in public affairs with the 301st FW at NAS JRB Fort Worth.
"When the Twin Towers went down, when the Pentagon got hit and the airplane crashed in Pennsylvania, I knew the United States would be involved in a big way," said Lt Col. (Dr.) Eric Johnson of the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
"I was 53 years old, worked as an anesthesiologist and had no prior military experience, but I knew there would be a need for my medical expertise. Within a week of the attack, I began filling out papers to enter the Air Force Reserve. After receiving a presidential age waiver, I was in."
Johnson said he spent a lot time going to school and learning on the job in the Air Force Reserve. His first deployment was to Iraq as the physician of a three-person, critical care air transport team.
"We transported critically injured troops out of Iraq to Germany via C-17," he said. "I remember on my first mission thinking that any of these young men and women under my care could have been my own father in World War II, who was injured in the Aleutian Islands preparing for battle against the Japanese. It took more than two months and a combination of aircraft, ships and trains to get my dear dad out of Alaska to Walla Walla, Wash., for definitive care.
"In Iraq and Afghanistan, we were getting these troops back to the United States in 24 to 48 hours from the time of the injury," said Dr. Johnson, who also deployed to Afghanistan. "Being a part of the United States military is my greatest honor. I'll stay in as long as they let me."
Staff Sgt. Andrea Barrow from the 446th Force Support Squadron was working as a dental assistant 10 years ago and didn't know anything about the military at the time. She watched a co-worker - Air Force Reserve Staff Sgt Heidi Hancock - prepared herself to serve and was amazed.
"I wanted to be a part of that and I felt my country needed me," Barrow said. "I was the first person in my family to join the military and when I swore into the Reserve in July 2003, I knew it was an honor. My unit's wartime mission (mortuary affairs) was also a highlight for me as I recently completed my first six-month deployment to the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation Center at Dover AFB, Del."
Tech. Sgt. Hector Corrales' ex-wife had two cousins die when the second airliner struck the World Trade Center.
"This affected our family in a major way," he explained. "We had no bodies to bury. Even our next-door neighbor perished.
"I looked at my first son, and I didn't want to go through what my wife's aunt and uncle were going through in losing their children. The attacks also made me think a lot about what we Americans have and we take for granted."
Corrales served in the Navy from 1993 to 1999. He saw missile strikes in Bosnia and thought he would never again put himself in harm's way.
Then along came 9/11. After talking it over with his wife, he decided to go back into the military in January 2002.
"I was working full time as a store manager for a car rental company at the time and was told that I would need to find a new job if I left for an extended period of time," said Corrales, who is now a full-time air reserve technician in the 514th Maintenance Operations Flight at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
"I gave my resignation and left the job," he said. "The military became my priority. I was lucky. Once that happened, I wound up actually coming back from training and ended up getting a better paying job at the rental car company. Deciding to come back to the military opened up more doors for me in the civilian world."