October 7, 2016

9/11 strengthened resolve of 162nd Wing

by Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith
162nd Wing Public Affairs
Air National Guard photograph by Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith
At around the exact moment the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center 15 years ago, 214th Reconnaissance Group commander Col. James Thompson and his command staff prepare to hoist the same American flag he used to remember the 9/11 attacks during his deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

TUCSON, Ariz—The tragic events of 9/11 shook the foundation of peace and security for the United States. No longer could its citizens take for granted the relative tranquility of their homeland. In the aftermath of what happened in New York City, the Pentagon and in the rolling hills of southwestern Pennsylvania, the Air National Guard presented itself as a highly capable, operational military force — a far cry from its traditional militia construct.

As a globally focused training unit by means of the F-16 schoolhouse more than a decade before 9/11, the 162nd Wing would soar to the forefront of homeland security, warfighting and security cooperation.

“9/11 was both a terrible and important event in our history — it clarified a significant threat; and reaffirmed the willpower of our nation,” said Brig. Gen. Phil Purcell, the 162nd Wing commander who served as an active-duty Air Force major and F-16 Programs Officer during the attacks.

“Since that date, our wing has stepped up even more to sustain that willpower, and we embrace the responsibility to defend our nation, and our Airmen are critical to success,” he added.

Not long after two F-16 Fighting Falcons from the District of Columbia Air National Guard scrambled to take down the last hijacked aircraft, key members from the 162nd Wing were already making arrangements to establish a makeshift detachment at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base from facilities that were used during the Cold War era.

Thus, just as the Freedom Tower arose from the ruins of the Twin Towers, the Aerospace Control Alert was born, with the mission of “providing continuous and immediate response in the defense of the United States and Canada.”

“The attacks of 9/11 refocused the United States into a defensive posture,” said Lt. Col. Julian L. Pacheco, ACA commander. “This (the alert detachment) is now maintained for the active-duty mission of homeland defense, fulfilled through an Air National Guard unit.”

Tech. Sgt. Julian Loza was stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea when America was under attack.

“Everything was real all of the sudden,” he said. “It wasn’t about the doldrums of the workload anymore. We knew what we were here for – to protect our country.”

Loza, who had planned to exit the military before 9/11, would re-enlist at D-M, retrain into flight engineering and participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

To mark the moment the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, the 214th Reconnaissance Group memorialized the event in formation, raising an American flag that its commander, Col. James Thompson, previously raised while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as a squadron commander at the Air Force Academy.

In closing a brief speech, Thompson asked the group’s Airmen to pause for reflection — for personal, and professional reasons.

“All of us should remember where we were on 9/11. I want you to look at this flag, think and remember,  and know why you are doing what you’re doing this morning.

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