KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
The Air Force Reserve’s 403rd Wing commemorated the 20th anniversary of 9/11 by hosting a Memorial Ruck March today at 8:30 a.m.
More than 100 Reserve Citizen Airmen and active duty members from the 81st Training Wing took part in the five-mile trek around Keesler’s flight line to pay tribute to and honor the memories of the 2,977 civilians, firefighters, law enforcement officers, and military personnel who lost their lives in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Col. Reginald G. Trujillo, Jr., 403rd Mission Support Group commander, opened the event in front of the 403rd Wing headquarters building by sharing his 9/11 story.
He was a captain working at the Pentagon, Washington D.C., attending a working group meeting offsite in Crystal City, east of the Pentagon, when someone informed him that that an aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Center’s north tower. He, and his coworkers, found the nearest television and watched the tragic images of the fire and smoke billowing out of the tower. He said he thought it was a tragic accident, watched the news for about five minutes, and they all went back to their meeting.
At 9:45 a.m. he then heard the fire alarm go off and everyone proceeded to exit the building when someone told the group that the south World Trade Center tower had been hit. Someone else then added that the Pentagon had been hit as well. As he exited onto the street, he could see the smoke rising from the Pentagon.
He was told to go home but he had carpooled that day, so he walked 7.5 miles to his residence at Bolling Air Force Base, and spent the rest of the day with his family.
“I experienced so many thoughts and emotions that day, such heart ache and sadness,” he said, adding that he was back to work in the Pentagon two days later, on Sept. 13.
Trujillo, and the rest of America, would soon learn the horrific details of those terrorist attacks. Nineteen hijackers took control of four commercial flights that day. At 8:46 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center’s north tower, followed by United Airlines Flight 175, which then hit the south tower at 9:03 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 then struck the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., and a fourth flight, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 10:03 a.m., which was believed to be headed for the Capitol.
“This is my 9/11 story, one of many,” said Trujillo. “We all remember where we were and who we were with that day. I challenge you to share your story with your children, your Airmen, and coworkers who were not around on that day. It’s important to share how we felt that day … the hurt, the pain, the anger, the sadness … but also share with them the spirit that rose from the ashes. How we came together as a nation to take on those who would do us harm. ‘United We Stand’ became our battle cry. Today, let’s remember and honor the 2,977 people who were killed and more than 6,000 others who were injured on 9/11. Those victims were not only American—more than 90 countries lost citizens in those attacks. We also remember the first responders who sacrificed all to head into danger to rescue people.”
There were 343 firefighters, 60 police officers and eight emergency medical technicians who died at ground zero that day.
To honor those first responders, Tech. Sgt. James Haymer, a traditional reservist with the 403rd Logistics Readiness Squadron and a firefighter in civilian life, rucked the five miles in 75-pounds of protective gear worn by firefighters.
“It felt right to put this on; I felt it was my duty to do something in honor of 9/11 and those people who lost their lives that day,” he said.
Haymer and other members marched behind the 403rd Security Forces Squadron, which organized and led event.
One of those 403rd SFS defenders was Tech. Sgt. Casey Mistric.
“It’s extremely important to remember our history … and that was an extraordinary event. It has to be memorialized, and this march is a way we can have an impact to carry on those people’s memories so it’s not forgotten,” he said.
Throughout the event, members stopped for moments of silence at 8:46, 9:03, 9:37 and 10:03 a.m.—the times each aircraft truck the towers, Pentagon and crashed at Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
“This day brings back some very intense memories for many of us,” said Col. Stuart M. Rubio, 403rd Wing commander, who was serving at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, as an instructor of pilot training. “We were all in shock but came together both as nation and a military to react to the attacks. We have many service members now who were born after 9/11, so this march allows us all to come together, learn about the history, and pay tribute to all the civilians, first responders and military personnel who lost their lives that day. Our unit training assemblies are busy, but it’s important for us to take some time out to do an event like this because it focuses on why we do what we do.”
During his opening comments, Trujillo mentioned a quote from former President George W. Bush’ address to the nation Sept. 11, 2001.
“These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. Today, our nation saw evil -- the very worst of human nature -- and we responded with the best of America. This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”
Rubio said it’s important to remember the motto, ‘United We Stand,’ and how we came together as a nation.
“Even when we have differences of opinion and different beliefs, we can all remember that we came together then and we can certainly do it now,” said Rubio.