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Rev’s Reflections on the 9/11 Attacks

It's September 2022, and I’ve spent time over this last week thinking about the Al-Qaeda attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001, about the passengers of flight 93 who fought back, about where I was when I learned of the first plane hitting the Towers, about how we responded at Fort Riley, and about how that day changed the trajectory of my career and life. For many of us in the Chapter, there is certainly a lot to think about.


I came across an article sharing personal reflections from people and one of them mentioned a name I had not thought about in a very long time: General Hugh Shelton. General Shelton was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff the day of the attacks. I had served under him at Fort Bragg, so out of curiosity, I opened another tab on the browser to learn about the part he played on this tragic day.


When I knew General Shelton, he was commanding the XVIII Airborne Corps (ABN) at Fort Bragg. He was in command during the Green Ramp Disaster in March of 1994 where an F16 and a C-130 had a mid-air collision resulting in the F16 crashing to the ground killing 24 paratroopers and injuring over 100 more who were preparing to load other aircraft to perform jump operations. My battalion had Soldiers on ramp among the injured and among those jumping into the fire and exploding ordnance without hesitation to help pull their fellow Soldiers from the melee. In the aftermath while awarding Soldiers Medals to the heroes of the day, General Shelton spoke of “Soldiers helping Soldiers”, and that that is what we do as Americans.


Sticking with the motto General Shelton had embodied as a young Special Forces leader, he commanded the US Task Force that seized control of Haiti later in 1994, freeing the oppressed from tyranny. I was part of the team that pushed CH-47s straight off the ramp of Simmons Army Airfield (Fort Bragg) self-deploying to Haiti as part of Operation Uphold Democracy. I remember, while he was so inspiringly wearing his maroon XVIII Airborne beret, how confidently General Shelton strode past the capitulating Haitian General Cedras; not acknowledging him as a legitimate authority, but rather began engaging Aristide’s loyal Major General Jean-Claud Duperval – all televised for the world to see.


On 11 September 2001, General Shelton was enroute to Europe to meet with NATO leaders. He recalled, “I was about two hours out when I got the call that a civilian plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. That caused the hair on the back of my neck to rise because I knew the weather up and down the coast was great.” He instructed the Air Force pilot to turn around, but the FAA had already closed the airspace. “We will ask forgiveness not permission, turn around”, is how Shelton replied. His plane flew right over the smoke coming from the Pentagon on his approach back to the Capital.


Approved to retire effective 1 October 2001, General Shelton spent his last weeks on active duty coordinating the plans to destroy Al-Qadea and Taliban forces in Afghanistan, and to defeat, disrupt, and degrade terrorist activities around the globe – plans that would become Operation Enduring Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism.


So, as we take time to remember those who died in the 9/11 attacks, let us also think about those who picked up the colors and took up the fight afterward. Every generation of Soldier, Marine, Airman, and Sailor builds upon the backs of those Veterans who came before. We serve the greatest nation on earth, and are blessed to do so.


Soldiers helping Soldiers

Americans helping Americans

Vets helping Vets


Your friend,

Rev


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