Sept. 8, 2011

A look back at the 2nd "Day of Infamy," Sept. 11, 2001

By John Listman, Virginia Guard Historian  and   
Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs

SANDSTON, Va. — Just like the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the first "Day of Infamy," the terrorist assaults on Sept. 11, 2001, came as a complete surprise to all Americans. The nation was at first in shock but that soon turned into resolve not to let future threats greatly disrupt our freedoms.

 

Starting on September 11, 2001 and lasting into Spring 2002, the F-16 "Fighting Falcon" aircraft of Virginia's 192nd Fighter Wing maintained an aerial combat air patrol over portions of the air space over Washington, DC, and Hampton Roads. (Courtesy of the Virginia Air National Guard Retirees Association)

The Virginia Guard’s participation in the nation’s response started almost immediately on Sept. 11 with the F-16s of the 192nd Fighter Wing, Virginia Air National Guard, taking an active role in flying combat air patrols, or CAP, missions over the nation’s capital, Camp David, and New York City to prevent future aerial attacks. These missions continued on a continuous basis for almost one year.

"We were flying 24/7 for 10 months out of our unit in the Virginia Air National Guard, and we were also pulling alert 24/7," said Air Force Col. Mark McCauley, Virginia Air Guard director of staff, who flew the missions in the days following the attack. "We always had six aircraft that were loaded up with live weapons ready to go. Two of which were dedicated to the combat air patrols we had to fly."

The Virginia Army Guard played no immediate role on September 11, but in the days that followed, that would change. In that first week, Sgt. 1st Class Ricky Kiser, then a survey leader for the 34th Civil Support Team, took a truckload of Meals Ready to Eat and body armor to D.C. National Guard personnel working around the Pentagon in the days after the attack.

When Kiser first learned of the attacks, he was at Fort Pickett training along with Army Lt. Col. William Patton, then a captain, on CST operations.

"When I first heard the news, I was in a state of shock and disbelief; then a sense of anger with an overwhelming need to protect our country and families," said Kiser, now the command sergeant major of 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment.

 

Sgt. 1st Class Ricky Kiser checks a mail box at the entrance to the Cortland Street Subway Station in New York City for possible biological agents just a few weeks after 9/11. Members of the 34th Civil Support Team worked around Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. The 34th's mission was to augment civilian first responders at HAZMAT events. They helped in searching for possible unknown chemical, biological or radiological hazards in the "hot zone" or contaminated area. Kiser is now the command sergeant major for the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Callaway)

In late September through early October 2001 eight members of the CST, working in two, four-person, teams deployed to the site of "Ground Zero" in New York City where the remains of the World Trade Center were still smoldering to examine the grounds for any trace of biological contamination.

"I was assigned to the same unit I am assigned to now," said Patton, who now commands the CST. "We responded to Ground Zero a few weeks after 9/11 to conduct reconnaissance and air sampling with my survey team."

Meanwhile other Virginia Army Guard personnel received a different set of tasks. For three days following the attacks, all American airports closed. When they began to reopen on September 14, part of the visible security was the presence of armed Virginia Guard members serving under the designation Operation Noble Eagle.

Also serving as part of Noble Eagle were hundreds of Guard members mobilized by the Department of Defense under Title 10, on active duty for up to 24 months. They secured vital facilities and infrastructure such as nuclear power plants, bridges, military bases (including Fort Pickett and the Virginia Air Guard Base at Sandston), military sites in the Washington, D.C. area, including the Army National Guard Readiness Center and the Army’s Ordnance Center at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.

"We went from a ready reserve force to a conventional force multiplier for DOD that was capable of conducting forward support operations," said Kiser. "The volunteers that joined our ranks to fight our current conflicts had a sense of duty and honor for our country, different from other conflicts the Guard was involved in."

Most of the security missions remained in place until 2003, in part by rotating the Soldiers after a one-year tour with fresh troops as to not overburden any one group by being on active duty for more than a year. Of course many of these Soldiers, having served up to a year already were soon to be recalled to active duty for preparation for the conflict in Iraq in the spring of 2003.

"Our posture and readiness has increased tremendously," said Patton. "We are fully trained and ready to respond to another terrorist incident or natural disaster. The readiness of the National Guard is there because we have made sure our training is first and foremost, and we are ready to respond."

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