by Charisse McNeal
Air Force Recruiting Service, 318th Recruiting Squadron Flight Administrator
9/10/2014 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- Editor's
Note: Charisse McNeal is an Air Force veteran who served as a medical
technician then administration for over seven years in the late 1980s.
She began working with Air Force Recruiting Service in Arlington, Va. in
On Sept. 11, 2001, as I poured my coffee and dressed my kid, read my
newspaper and giggled with my co-workers, I wondered what would be my
next travel destination. Little did I know that my world and my country
would change that day and would never be the same again.
On that gorgeous Tuesday morning, I was working as an interline travel
specialist for a major airline carrier, headquartered in Crystal City,
Va., located along the Ronald Reagan National Airport flight line just
blocks from the Pentagon. As a resident of Virginia, an employee in the
Washington metro area and an American, I felt as empowered and as
indomitable as the buildings which stood around me. The view out the far
left of my office window stood the Capitol, down further erect and
strong, the Lincoln Memorial, to the side is the Vietnam War Memorial
and down a bit, the Korean Memorial. In the center of all of this is the
WWII Memorial and to the side and down the hill, the White House. These
institutions have protected us, nurtured us and taught us what it means
to be an American and that home is where the heart is and this was our
home ...good or bad. And at that moment in time it seemed that nothing
could break us as a nation, nor harm us, and that no one person could
change our future or our lives.
As I stood in a hallway at work and watched on television the second
plane hit the tower in New York and heard of the third plane to hit the
Pentagon, I was literally incapacitated and uncertain of what to do. I
wanted to comfort someone and tell them it would be "alright," but I was
in such a state of disbelief that I couldn't conjure up the strength to
pull words out. I was absolutely bewildered and motionless; and just
remember thinking Americans were always the big guys in the fight. But
we can't fight what we can't see, and we couldn't see anything in that
instant. I was blinded and blindsided within those two and a half hours
on that fall morning. It was as if we were all targets and there was
nowhere any of us could hide. My co-workers and I all felt as if we were
under attack. We didn't know where the next plane would hit so we all
just stood very still and very calm. There was no one crying or
screaming. We were outwardly professional and focused, wanting to know
which planes were hijacked and if any were our airline's planes. Yet
privately, I believe we were all in full and complete panic mode with
thoughts of our family, future, career, country and jobs.
For weeks after, I cried sporadically as I watched the coverage on
television. I watched the coverage of victims jumping out of the tower
windows, families of the victims in the crashes, and coverage of the
thousands of photos of the missing. I watched the gray skies of my home
state of New York linger with concrete dust, blood and the body parts of
my American citizens and was still in disbelief.
With so much pain in my heart and so much pride for my country I
understood that we hadn't lost anything as a nation because as I
continued to watch the television I saw ALL Americans -- of different
races, creeds, nationalities, and genders -- helping each other. There
was no end to the gallantry, sacrifice and perseverance as we supported
the stranger next to us and each supporting the other. And as they would
wipe the blood and soot off of their faces, I thought again that no one
could break us as a nation.
I feel that the future generation of Airmen will have to become fearless
because there are new threats and a new enemy at our door. We now live
in a different world. I think that government and non-government
civilians must do all we can to serve and to assist our Airman and our
military as they protect us and our homeland, now more than ever before
in our nation's history.
We are Americans.