9/11 and TSA
- All That My Father Asked of Me
Jason Lim, HQ
- Response to the World Trade Center
Ed Kittel, HQ
- My 911 Recollection and Road to TSA
Robert C McLaughlin, HQ
- Not Just Another Day At Work In The Pentagon...
K.W Johnson, HQ
- Planes Everywhere
Richard Ham, HQ
- Why I Serve
Kurt Ettenger, HQ
- An Ocean Away ... 9/11 On the Outside Looking In
Tara, Team Texas
- My 9/11 story
Nicole Sandford, Grand Forks International (GFK)
- Sponge Bob Square Pants
Stephanie Naar, Washington Reagan National (DCA)
- Remembering 9/11/01
Nancy Basmagy, John F. Kennedy International (JFK)
- View From Above -- A 9/11 Memory
Mark P. Wadopian, Syracuse-Hancock International (SYR)
- The Day My Life Began
Martin Elam, Chicago Midway (MDW)
- My 9-11
Wendell Hart, Indianapolis International(IND)
- Stranded on Sept. 11, 2001
Kristen Hazelwood, T F Green State (PVD)
- Spending time with former President GHW Bush on 9/11
James Dionne, Bangor International (BGR)
- Moira and Ray
Pedro Velazquez Logan International (BOS)
- Heroes, Courage and Patriotism
Marcia Sarola, New Orleans International (MSY)
- I Mostly Remember the Flags
Lawrence Swartwood, Jacksonville International (JAX)
- My path to TSA
Valerie Espinoza, McCarran International (LAS)
- From Then to Now
Samuel Luks, Modesto City County (MOD)
- An Average American Woman
J.F., San Jose International (SJC)
- 9/11.....For My Brother
Cynthia Bonanno, Orange County John Wayne (SNA)
- The Love for My Country
Diamantino Conceicao, Antonio B. Won Pat International (GUM)
All That My Father Asked of Me
Jason Lim, HQ
I wrote this soon after I joined TSA in 2007. It was published in the Washington Post in September, 2007.
Although our family left South Korea to begin a new life in America over 30 years ago, I didn't know that my North Korea-born father was such an American patriot until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
While I was growing up, my father was the epitome of the silent type, never raising his voice yet guiding his children by how diligently he worked as the owner-operator of a tiny dry cleaning business in Yonkers, the blue-collar New York City suburb.
He left at 6 in the morning and returned home at 8 at night with the dirt and smell of his work clinging to him. Even in the face of some business or family crisis, he would be silent, offering no excuses and exhibiting no emotion. The next morning, he would go off to face the mounds of clothes as usual.
My father rarely talked about his childhood in Pyongyang. He never mentioned that he had been accepted to medical school in Moscow on a full scholarship before the Korean War obliterated that option. He never talked about escaping alone to the South when he was 16, and he still doesn't know what happened to his mother and baby sister. He never talked about fighting in the Korean War at 17, though when my brother and I were little, he let us play with the scar that a North Korean bullet left across his chest.
These details we got in rare bits and pieces from our Mom, who isn't exactly voluble herself.
I never even knew my father spoke six languages â€“ Korean, English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Russian â€“ until I was in college. And there I was, all smug about being able to speak Korean, English and some Spanish.
This was the father I knew â€“ silent, hardworking and very Korean â€“ until he called me a few months after Sept. 11 and told me to come home. For the first time in memory, he said he wanted to talk to me.
So I was on the next plane to New York. When I arrived, expecting the worst, it was past midnight. My father was waiting in his car. He said he wanted to go for a drive into the city and handed me the keys. He told me to head downtown along Fifth Avenue.
All the way, he was quiet. But as we approached Washington Square Park, I stopped the car without my father having to tell me to. The absence was so striking. The twin towers of the World Trade Center, usually framed by the Washington Square Arch, were gone. There was just an eerie glow where they used to be.
Then, for the first time in my life, my father asked me for a favor. He asked me to quit my job and go to work for the U.S. government, in whatever capacity it would take me.
My initial reaction was to dismiss this as ridiculous. I was chief of staff for the founder of an international consulting firm and the fastest-rising executive in the company's history. I had a guaranteed, financially secure future. This was the American dream for which my parents had sacrificed all their lives. And he wanted me to go back to school and apply to become a government bureaucrat?
Like any other American, I was deeply affected by Sept. 11. Three students from my high school were killed that day. But this was out of the question. I couldn't give up what I had worked so hard for.
Then he said something that stopped my breath. He said: "Please." My father, who, along with my mother, had slaved in a stifling dry cleaner for more than 20 years for his children, felt the need to say â€œpleaseâ€ to his son.
He talked about gratitude. His gratitude to America for allowing a North Korean orphan to take care of his family and send his sons to the best schools in the world. His sense of thankfulness at being granted the freedom and privilege to make his life worthwhile for his family. He said that real patriotism came from acting on your sense of gratitude for your country, not just talking about it. Having one of his sons contribute to the protection of America was his only way to pay back what he had received. I hadn't known my father was such an eloquent man.
So, finally, this June, I began my new life as a bureaucrat, working at the Transportation Security Administration. Along with 50,000 proud colleagues, I am responsible for safeguarding America's freedom of movement for both people and goods.
My father is quietly ecstatic and plans, finally, to retire. He is 75. And he is a Korean American patriot.
Response to the World Trade Center
Ed Kittel, HQ
I was at my desk at the FAA Explosives Unit about 8:45 a.m. on September 11th when the notification came in about an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center North Tower in New York City. I immediately headed to the Aviation Command Center (ACC) and began turning on equipment to activate the ACC to manage the FAA Security response to the incident. I had CNN on the television screens watching the initial reports as members of the crisis management team began arriving and taking their positions. We immediately began the chronological incident log to track the actions taken in support of the perceived aircraft accident.
As both a certified accident and post-blast investigator, one of my jobs was to work incidents with the NTSB and FBI to bridge the gaps between safety and law enforcement investigations. When I saw the second airplane hit the South Tower at 9:03, I said, "This is no accident; I need to get to New York!"
I immediately departed for my residence in Washington, DC which was only three miles from FAA Headquarters. Being accustomed to being on the "Go Team," I had all of my response gear on shelves just inside the basement door and I was quickly packed for the drive to NYC. I packed heavy, including a secure telephone, evidence response kits, safety gear, cameras, batteries, and lots of working uniforms. When I reached up to close the rear hatch of my SUV, I heard the impact of Flight 77 hitting the Pentagon. From my position in center city near the Convention Center, I couldn't tell if the "explosion" was at the White House, State Department, or Pentagon as all three are on the same relative bearing from the house. I remember telling a hysterical neighbor, "I don't know what just happened but it's not good. I need to get to New York!"
Listening to WTOP, I quickly learned that the Pentagon had been attacked and that the FAA was shutting down all U.S. airspace. I continued to monitor the events, including the collapse of the WTC South Tower at 9:59, the 10:03 crash at Shanksville, PA, and the North Tower collapse at 10:28. Using emergency lights, the rest of the trip was a bit of a blur with lots of adrenaline and emotion pouring through my body.
Growing up on Long Island, I had seen the World Trade Center being built and now it was gone in a little over an hour. Ironically, I had last visited the facility for the investigation of the February 1993 bombing, shortly after reporting to the FAA. My immediate thoughts were that al Qa'ida had returned to finish what they started.
From Exit 10 on the New Jersey Turnpike headed north, I was virtually the only vehicle on the highway as "civilian" traffic was diverted to the Garden State Parkway and the Outerbridge Crossing. I remembered where the FBI set up their emergency command post in 1993, in their vehicle garage on the lower West Side, and after driving through the Lincoln Tunnel as the only car (what an eerie feeling) I headed to see if they followed the same plan as 26 Federal Plaza was out of service, again! After a quick chat with my colleagues, they directed me to meet the NYPD Bomb Squad and their Special Agent Bomb Technicians (SABT) at City Hall, near the WTC site. I pulled up alongside one of the Bomb Squad trucks at 1:30 PM.
The scene reminded me of the TV movie, "The Day After"! Grey concrete dust was thick, covering every surface including the trees and sound was muffled by the virtual insulation which was maybe six inches deep. The scene was surreal. I asked Detective 1st Grade onsite where I should park, which seems a little bizarre looking back on it, but New York Sanitation Parking Enforcement is legendary in its enforcement efficiency. The detective responded with an epithet, and I pulled in alongside the bomb squad.
By this time I realized that I was representing both the FAA and the NTSB, who were both working at the Pentagon and I was asked to do the best that I could for both agencies until they could bring in reinforcements in the days ahead. My first thoughts were to locate and mark airplane parts and preserve as much evidence as I could amidst the chaos of the enormous crime scene. We found an engine and pieces of a wing but everything was covered in pulverized WTC debris and the task seemed overwhelming. What I really wanted to find were two Cockpit Voice Recorders (CVRs) and two Flight Data Recorders (FDRs).
I asked both FAA and NTSB command centers to e-mail me photos of both Boeing 767 and 757 "black boxes" in burned and damaged as well as pristine condition so I could make up "Wanted Posters" to pass out to investigators and firefighters â€“ I had them made and distributed the next morning. In the meantime, we were trying to put some order to the chaos. I have the highest regard for the heroic actions of FDNY, NYPD, FBI and all of the first responders that day in the weeks and months ahead. They showed the nation their resolve and the finest values, valor, and dedication which could ever be expected of heroes in a time of need. The bomb technician community lost Danny Richards of NYPD and SABT Lenny Hatton of the FBI that day as they were trying to rescue WTC occupants.
That afternoon I had to run down the street to escape being hit by debris during the collapse of WTC Building 7 at 5:20 PM. Around midnight I arrived at my parent's home in Mineola and showered off with the garden hose in their back yard to wash away the dust of the dayâ€™s activities, a process that continued throughout my time in New York. The city was in shock and somehow that ritual helped me cleanse my anger each evening before collapsing in my childhood bedroom after a second "real" shower.
The following day, Mary Jo White, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, made the determination that we did not need to recover all of the airplane parts for evidence as the crime was captured on video. We did need to inspect every piece of debris for the possibility that bombs might have been used in the attacks, which had been a speculation. In the days ahead, the operation shifted from rescue to recovery with all of the wreckage being barged over to Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. Each time human remains were discovered the entire "Ground Zero" site ceased work and came to attention to honor the dead.
I quickly settled into a routine briefing every 12-hour shift at Fresh Kills, inspecting tons of wreckage, visiting the bomb squad and FBI offices in Lower Manhattan, and the FAA regional office in Queens, by JFK Airport, each twice a day until it seemed like the right time to return to Washington a couple of weeks later.
Ironically, we never located the "black boxes".
My 911 Recollection and Road to TSA
Robert C McLaughlin, HQ
On 9/11, I worked in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Aviation Security Operations Directorate in Washington D.C. One of my additional duties was to serve as a duty officer for aviation security incidents. Laura Valero, an FAA Intelligence Employee, came to my area and was excitedly looking for another employee, Mike Weikert of FAA Crisis Management.
Laura explained that she needed a duty officer and, while it wasn't my turn, I said that I'd be glad to assist her. She asked me to follow her. I found it odd that we were both actually running to the Office of Intelligence. When I arrived at the SCIF, there were several employees actively monitoring a hijacking of an American Airlines aircraft. I heard that air traffic was not communicating with the pilot and that background noises were heard; it was believed that a passenger had been stabbed when, suddenly for a minute or two, someone would state that the aircraft's altitude suddenly dropped 50 or 75 feet.
A few minutes later, Mike Weikert reported to the SCIF and, with the Intelligence Manager Pat Durgin, stated that we (Operations) activated the Aviation Command Center (ACC). Mike asked me to gather essential critical response personnel and bring the Security Operations Director Lee Longmire up to the ACC while Mike activated the computers and communications equipment.
I quickly moved through the Operations Offices telling many people to deploy to the ACC and assume emergency response positions. I recalled that, by the time I arrived at the Director's office, he had already moved to the ACC. I was in the ACC a few minutes speaking to a communications officer in the Washington Operations Center when I noticed what appeared to be an aircraft strike a building in New York. I told several people and as the events unfolded it became more dire as time elapsed.
The FAA Headquarters building, like many federal government building that day, evacuated non-essential personnel; my carpool of several years would leave without me that day. I, along with another employee, Tom Taafe, would work 28 hours straight, which explains why many incidents throughout the day are still blurred in my memory. Tom would contact his wife and she would drive into D.C. and pick us up the next day.
I remember receiving a call from Ed Kittel from FAA Explosives who drove to the World Trade Center that day to assist with the accident investigation. Ed needed several Boeing aircraft schematics and, as I attempted to track down the schematics, suddenly realized that the entire floor of that building was evacuated. As I continued to yell for assistance moving through several offices, I found one lone supervisor in a back office, who not only knew Ed, but immediately called Boeing in California and, while it took more than 30 minutes, he was able to have schematics forwarded to Ed in New York.
I recalled during that morning that we were tracking what we thought were close to 8-10 "lost aircraft" and that our country was under a major attack. The phrase, "lost aircraft" would be attributed to communications and that an aircraft "lost on radar" was understood by us (security) as a "lost or downed aircraft" and not an aircraft that likely had already landed. I wish I could remember more.
In fact, during the 8th year of the 9/11 attacks, my wife would remind me that I called her that morning and , "I don't have time to explain, but go to the school right now and get our daughter and drive immediately home now â€“ I will call you later!" I didn't call her again until the next morning but until my wife reminded me 8 years later, I did not recall the conversation.
I would work the next 2 years in a 24 hour (shift work) watch office. The experiences and responsibility assigned to me was something that I will never forget, but it was an incredible drain on personal and family life. I truly tip my hat to those workers that perform their duties around the clock keeping us all safe.
My path to TSA, as with many who received the calling, will lead and drive me to work on many missions to ensure that the traveling public is safe from terrorism. I would work with others and support building an Operations Watch for Crisis Management, train others to conduct airport and MANPADS Vulnerability Assessments, be trained in conducting Criminal Investigations, supervise international transportation security operations to include a one year assignment embedded with the Afghan Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in Kabul, and currently am working in Domestic Operations identifying threats and recommending mitigation and countermeasures.
TSA is filled with many exceptional professionals who continue the fight every hour of every day and will never forget why they serve.
I consider myself fortunate to be alive today to serve with TSA as a visible example of the spirit and unselfish acts following the events of September 11, 2001.
Not Just Another Day At Work In The Pentagon...
K.W Johnson, HQ
It was the perfect September morning. A slight breeze, cool, crisp â€“ just a great day to be supporting our Country working at the Pentagon.
The best part, I had met my soul mate there and had asked her to be my wife just days before 9/11. (She said Yes!!!) I worked as the Property Book Officer & Logistics Coordinator for the Chief of Staff of the Army. She worked in the Army Budget Office supporting the Army Staff. That's how we met.
Due to Fiscal Year Close-Out activities, we drove in extra early that morning. The budget office gets pretty hectic in September!!! And, me being in Logistics, was always looking for more money from them to plug into various end-of-year projects!!!
Again, it was just a beautiful day â€“ then came the attack....
That morning, I had to leave the building, but as soon as I heard about the attacks at the World Trade Center, I headed straight back to my office. I got back just as the Pentagon was attacked......
Being an Army Trained Combat Lifesaver, I immediately ran toward the destruction â€“ as so many of us did. Rendering emergency first aid, carrying casualties, everything and anything to help in this disaster is what we did. For 22 straight hours, we did whatever we could on that HeliPad. A little after 7 a.m., the next morning, I went home.
My Soul mate, Molly Lou McKenzie, would not be coming home. She, like most of the Army Budget Office, took a direct hit during the attack.
I stayed on at the Pentagon until 2008 when I had the opportunity to come to TSA. It seemed â€œfittingâ€ for me to come here. To at least do my part to ensure no other person has to feel the loss of a Mother or a Father, a Brother or a Sister, a Son or a Daughter â€“ or a fiancÃ©e......
Richard Ham, HQ
On September 11th, 2001, I was still on active duty in the Air Force. I had asked for my last assignment before retirement back to Arkansas near family. I was finishing up work on my doctorate with plans to be a college professor after retirement and enjoy a little less stressful life.
On that morning, I was in my office in the air traffic control tower at Little Rock Air Force Base. I was the airfield operations flight commander in charge of the tower, radar facility, and airport operations at the base. My paperwork shuffle was interrupted when the tower Chief burst into my office and said, "Sir, a commercial aircraft just hit the World Trade Center."
We turned on the television and called the command post to see if there was any further information. While the newscasters were speculating, we both knew the system and the design of terminal approach procedures and air traffic control monitoring. We knew this could have only been intentional or a massive catastrophic mechanical event.
While we were en route to the control tower, the second aircraft hit and we were preparing for a recall of aircraft. Little Rock has the largest contingent of C-130s in the world and recovering the fleet of 50-90 aircraft in a short period of time is a huge undertaking. We were not prepared for what happened next.
When the decision was made to ground all air traffic, I rolled out the radar and stopped counting aircraft at 400. Since Arkansas is in the center of the country, many of those aircraft were directed to land at Little Rock National Airport, 12 miles to the south of the base. As the target began to move toward the runways to land we began to realize two things. First, we didn't know at that point if there were terrorists on any of the aircraft. Second, Little Rock National would run out of parking space before we ran out of airplanes.
The next few hours were stressful to say the least. When I called to speak to a colleague at Little Rock National if they had room for more, he said, "Not much, we have planes everywhere." At one point, Little Rock National had only two spaces left to park aircraft, including after closing two of three runways to use for parking. In the end, we worked with the FAA controllers and established a flow around military restricted airspace and deconflicted the recovery of the commercial aircraft. The most daunting sight was the radar screen when we were done â€“ not a single target within 300 miles, which was something I hadn't seen in 20 years of air traffic control.
In the end, every hotel room was filled and people had to open their homes to strangers due to a lack of bed space. As they all tried to make sense of what happened in a strange place, I went on a long, sleepless period of duty to begin the recovery procedures when the grounding was lifted.
Ultimately, my dissertation was put on hold along with my retirement planning. I spent the next year tracking down complaints of low flying aircraft, investigating airspace violations, and educating pilots on intercept procedures. One month before my retirement, I got a job offer from TSA and began working immediately after I retired.
I still remember those days vividly and not just the initial attack, but the fear we would lose more lives during the recovery process. In particular, I recall a fellow pilot had attempted to fly during the initial grounding because his daughter was a flight attendant on one of the aircraft that went into World Trade. His grief was beyond description. Because of that memory, I work every day to do my best to prevent the next one and train the next guard behind me to stand vigilant after I'm gone.
Why I Serve
Kurt Ettenger, HQ
I will always remember that day. I was working at my Federal supply job at Crystal City (less than 1 mile from the Pentagon) when the news about the WTC started trickling in. I felt greatly uneasy as I went to a morning meeting on the 8th Floor in a large Conference Room with plenty of glass facing the direction of the Pentagon.
As I entered the room, I saw all eyes were on the thick, black plume of smoke emerging from behind the buildings in the direction of the Pentagon, and my heart sank with dread. My friend and I headed for the street for â€œsituational awarenessâ€ â€“ a common term in my vocabulary now, but back then I guess we were just looking around.
As we hit the courtyard we felt the concussion of something blowing up (so we gathered). At that point, we decided it was time to go. There were a group of our field people in for training that week, so we herded them down towards the river path near the Potomac; the normally quiet bike/foot path had become a highway as the mass of people made their southern Exodus towards Alexandria.
As we made our way south, some of our party veered west along the 4 Mile Run Creek, another sleepy bike path which had been converted to vital infrastructure. After shepherding our party to their hotel, I stood on the path looking north towards the smoke; I wanted to go back and pick up fire hose or just to do something of value. I donâ€™t remember this part, but my friend said â€œletâ€™s keep moving, weâ€™ve done everything that we can doâ€ and he said I responded dryly, â€œactually, we havenâ€™t done anything.â€
Late that night, I made my way back to Crystal City to the roof of a hotel where some of my law enforcement friends were staying; we stood there passively watching the firefighters pour gallons and gallons of water on the stubborn last flames, which still refused to go out. As we watched, our emotions ran high with a mixture of impotence, anger, and patriotism, and that night, with the devastation in front of us, we toasted and then swore our oath to the Nation with all our hearts: when the sun rose, we were all going to do our part.
That next day, I never put on my shoes with so much conviction that no one would ever run me off again, and that morning everything really had changed. A few months later, I made my way to the U.S. Department of Transportation and, while my role was far from glamorous (fleet and property management support), I did my part and helped TSA go from a handful of people to a full-fledged "Administration."
Like many other folks, I followed the work from DOT to TSA, and for the last 7 & 1/2 years, I have been building and fixing things here at TSA still doing what I can to support the mission.
Over the last few years I have been providing support and resources to the TSA Historian Office and accompanied them last year to the non-descript warehouse at JFK to view 9/11 artifacts for a future TSA museum.
As I solemnly walked through the warehouse observing the remnants of the two towers, I came across sections of the grey plywood walls that had surrounded the site, originally designed for security, then used for posting frantic messages to locate missing friends and loved ones, and finally as a place of mourning as the survivors left their goodbye messages to those who were lost that day forever.
I finally lost my composure as I read a message from a young boy, the same age as my son, as he scribbled his goodbye message to his father. Grieved for his loss, I made another oath that I would support TSA for as long as it needed me.
I am proud to be part of TSA; we have done so much in such a short time and have protected so many people. I can only wonder how many tragedies we have averted since that fateful day nearly 10 years ago. And I know the reason we have been successful is not the funding, processes or technology, but the people; this place works because of the men and women who make the difference every day, and who have made their own oaths to protect the public and to support this organization.
This is why I "Serve."
An Ocean Away ... 9/11 On the Outside Looking In
Tara, Team Texas
Our household was preparing for dinner when Flight 11 struck the North Tower on September 11, 2001. In the quaint village of Mehlingen, Germany the clocks read six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. The Today Show aired live each weekday beginning at 1:00 p.m. (7:00 a.m. EST) on the American Forces Network (AFN). Their coverage of the terrorist acts was immediate and intense. We gathered around the television and watched with disbelief.
I recall the horror of the tragic events unfolding over the ensuing hours, days, and weeks. Patriotism, already strong in an overseas environment, grew indomitable. The men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces responded swiftly. The military bases went on lockdown; gates that previously remained perpetually open were sealed; base access points were immediately elevated from THREATCON ALPHA to THREATCON DELTA; armed soldiers stood prepared; and within the walls of the bases, at each building and facility, additional identification stations were implemented.
Germany became hauntingly quiet. A despondency swept the nation. German nationals stopped Americans on the street to shake their hands and offer condolencesâ€¦ often without words. Yet language differences did not inhibit understanding.
I felt a sense of separation from my nation. A desire to grieve and heal with my country grew within me. After being stop-lossed in Germany for six months post 9/11, we returned to Texas, in July of 2002. It was there I discovered an ad calling for Transportation Security Screeners at Wichita Falls Municipal Airport (SPS). I saw this as an opportunity to contribute to my country's well being.
The last 8+ years have proven to be more fulfilling than I could have ever imagined. I am extremely proud that I was selected to serve with this agency alongside the dedicated individuals at DAL, GGG, SPS, TYR, DFW, and TSA Headquarters.
My 9/11 story, Nicole Sandford
Grand Forks International (GFK)
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was working on bookkeeping records when my mom called me. She said that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center and that I should turn on my radio. I did, and as we were talking, I heard the announcement that a second plane had just flown into the other Tower. I quickly went over to my grandma's house, as we did not want her to hear the news while she was alone, as it would be devastating for her. She emigrated to the United States after WWII (her entire family had been killed). She instilled a powerful love of the U.S. into all of us.
On Sept 11, I stayed with her and we sat and watched the news coverage the rest of the day. We prayed for the victims, their families, and the United States. It was a day that will stay burned into my memory forever. I am so proud to work for the U.S. and do my small part to help prevent another attack!
Sponge Bob Square Pant
Stephanie Naar, Washington Reagan National (DCA)
It's hard to believe that it's been almost 10 years; the time has flown by so fast and my entire life has changed so much. As I reflect on the tragedy of 9/11, it brings a moment of solemnity that is followed by a calming peace. There were a lot of lives changed that day and mine wasn't an exception.
I remember waking up and noticing what a beautiful day it was. The sun was beaming into my bedroom, so I got up cheerfully and went into the kitchen to prepare breakfast for myself and my two young children, which I didn't do often. Without thought, I turned on the television and the scene of a building with billowing smoke immediately caught my attention. The news feed was scrolling so fast across the bottom of the screen that all I could read was that the object lodged into the side of the building was indeed an airplane or small jet of some sort. I distinctively recall shaking my head in disbelief and uttered a silent but sincere prayer for those who had undoubtedly lost their lives in some sort of freak accident.
Then it happened again â€“ I saw a small object begin to dip on the screen and plow into the second building. What was I seeing? The ominous sight reminded me of the day I watched the space shuttle Challenger back in 1986. As small particles began to break off, there was this eerie feeling. I stared in horror as it exploded in mid air.
That same horrible feeling was back; a feeling that said something is really wrong and this is no freak accident â€“ that we are under attack. Moments later, the news feed at the bottom of the screen changed from news about the towers to reports of smoke in or around the Pentagon. The screaming and rumbling of jets taking off began to shake my house and confirmed my greatest fear. Now what? I thought to myself. I lived very near the south gate of Andrews Air force base and I knew if they were attacking the Pentagon, the White House and Andrews would be next.
I called my mother who suggested that I leave the house and try to get somewhere safe. Safe? I had visions of what it must've been like in Pearl Harbor during that attack and decided nowhere would really be safe. So I grabbed up my two sons, 2 years and 8 months old, fixed pancakes (their favorite meal), went to my basement, and prayed. To my surprise I didn't ask God to spare us or save us â€“ I simply said, "if today is our last day, Thank You Lord and if it isn't what should I do with my tomorrow." My answer was simply to touch the lives of more people with positivity.
With that I turned to my sons and asked them what they wanted to watch on TV? My oldest said "Sponge Bob Scare Pants" so we did. It was the funniest episode ever and we laughed. Now I am a Model Workplace program manager at TSA â€“ in some way I feel that I am keeping the promise I made. I am definitely touching more lives and paying attention to the things that are truly important â€“ while catching an episode of Sponge Bob every now and then.
Nancy Basmagy, John F. Kennedy International (JFK)
My Husband Tom is a New York City Firefighter. He was working a 24-hour shift Sept 10th into the Morning of the 11th. 9/11 was supposed to be a fantastic day for me since I would be turning 40. My husband called me earlier that morning to say he would be home early and I should prepare for a fantastic day.
I was walking my daughters to school that morning. The sky was a beautiful blue and the air was so crisp. I met with some friends who wanted to take me out for breakfast to celebrate, but my husband would be returning home soon.
As we all congregated outside the school, someone mentioned that a plane crashed into the North Tower. We figured it was a small prop plane or copter. Being that my husband had worked in the "Ten House" lower Manhattan, "I will get the scoop"...I called his cell and he told me that he was sorry he couldn't come home, they were all heading up into the tower. This would be the last phone transmission I would have with him that day.
I stayed with my friends watching the news as a second aircraft crashed into the second tower. We realized that we were being attacked. My first instinct was to get my kids and stay at home. My friends wouldn't let me leave knowing that my husband is down there. Another breaking story about the Pentagon being attacked put us all into panic mode.
When the first tower collapsed it was so surreal. This wasn't happening, I had to leave and go home. When the second tower collapsed I felt emptiness, a disconnection from my husband.
I waited by the phone to hear from my husband.... The only communication was from our cable TV. Friends and neighbor would stop by, hoping that my husband would call.
Many hours later I got that call, he was alive. With a choking voice he apologized to me for not being able to come home to celebrate. I understood that his men needed him now. I was so filled with grief and fear that all I can do now was cry. I cried that my husband was alive, I cried that my city was attacked, I cried for all those friends and strangers that were lost.
I remember watching the news showing all those people desperately looking for their loved ones. Mine came home 48 hours later. He was dirty, he was smelly but he was with my kids and me and this was the greatest gift I ever got.
My husband had lost many friends and brothers that day. We all lost someone that day. When the opportunity came for me to go back to work and TSA was hiring. The attacks of 9/11,that will always be a bittersweet day for me, for the losses our City endured, the friends that we lost and a birthday that forever this will be associated with the attacks. It only made sense that I should work for an agency that was created because of this day and never to forget our mission.
View From Above -- A 9/11 Memory
Mark P. Wadopian, Syracuse-Hancock International (SYR)
My personal memory of this date of infamy began at a funeral for a fallen co-worker. At the time I was employed as a Sergeant and pilot for the New York State Police, based at the Syracuse, NY aviation office. The funeral was in Albany, NY. While gathering at the Albany Aviation office, word of the first event at the World Trade Center was received. In the break room a TV was tuned in for the news reports. The SP Newburgh Aviation office (Stewart Airport) was put on alert to be ready to assist if necessary. Then the second strike occurred before our eyes as we (and millions of others) watched in horror. Reality set in quickly. We finished the funeral detail while all available State Police Aviation assets were being put on alert and the response coordinated. The SP Syracuse Aviation office was dispatched to support SP Newburgh Aviation. As soon as the funeral services concluded I drove to Newburgh and joined my unit.
On arrival, there was much to do administratively and, as we learned of the Washington, DC (Pentagon) attack, it became clear this was not going to be a short assignment. The Albany, Newburgh, and Syracuse air crews were already active on flight assignments. The rest of the aviation crew was relegated to performing necessary ground coordination activities. The World Trade Center Towers were coming down (or had come down by the time of my arrival at Newburgh) and it was clear the casualty level was to be very high â€“ overwhelming for the immediate medical assets. Thus, mass casualty programs were activated statewide and beyond. The trained aero medical crew from all our stations (comprised of local ambulance corps volunteers) were activated and dispatched to the staging point at Newburgh. (This also provided for a brief opportunity for family members to pack us a travel bag and ship it via responding medical crew). SP Batavia Aviation assets were also dispatched.
Airspace was rapidly closed by the FAA and all airborne flights (nationwide) were redirected for immediate landing away from the New York City and Washington, DC area. Coordination was made with the FAA to allow only New York City Police, New York State Police, and Military aviation assets to remain airborne. I was placed on the night rotation of flight crews. Our primary assignment was to prepare for the onslaught of medical transfers to relieve overwhelmed medical facilities. (Sadly, this was used far less than anticipated due to the nature of the event â€“ if patients didnâ€™t walk away, only a limited few needed advanced medical care. The preponderance of victims were to be memorialized.)
Since the whole city was shut down â€“ in addition to debris, a main electrical trunk had been destroyed under the towers â€“ vehicle transport about the affected area was very restricted. That night, when my crew and I finally got airborne, our primary assignment was to shuttle medical supplies from warehouses to all the affected medical facilities. I had flown the famed â€œNew York Skylineâ€ several times before, but nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience: the City was totally blacked out and there were no other aircraft competing for the airspace (except for â€œcompanyâ€ traffic). It was an eerie sensation to know what was below yet have it in total darkness. Also, the only radio traffic, on a frequency that is usually jammed with professional chatter, was limited to infrequent, but familiar voices. This went on for several days, at which time I rotated to the day shift.
For several days after the initial attack, â€œGround Zeroâ€ continued to spew toxic-laden soot and smoke like a devilâ€™s cauldron. Numerous assignments and missions were conducted in the days immediately following 9/11, but my most vivid impression was yet to come. It was not until the seventh or eighth day (they were blending together as all one event by now) that the smoke cleared enough to see into its center. We were assigned a photography mission to further document the devastation. I nearly became fixated while circling in a steep bank to allow a State Police photographer to document the core of the destruction. The sight was, at once, exhilarating, mesmerizing and woeful. To know what had been there, and to now see into the bowels of the Trade Centerâ€™s core was overwhelming. I had to fight myself back into reality and remember I was piloting a helicopter in extreme conditions at low level!!
Although a great deal more than what I describe was occurring simultaneously, this is the memory I will hold to the end of my days. If, or when, someone should inquire, â€œwhere were you whenâ€¦â€ I will never draw a blank. When it became time for me to retire from the New York State Police, TSA gave me an opportunity I obviously could not refuse.
The Day My Life Began
Martin Elam, Chicago Midway (MDW)
There is no doubt that 9/11 is a day that will forever be remembered as one of the most horrific and saddest days in our Nation's history. However, with most tragedy and pain comes triumph. Many people say 9/11 changed their lives, but I say my life started on 9/11. Almost as if someone came along, turned off one light, and turned on another, my new life began.
I grew up in tough and gang infested neighborhoods in South Central Los Angeles, CA in a single-parent household. My mother tried her best to raise all 5 of us, but she really struggled financially, so we were constantly moving from one apartment to the next. I attended six different elementary schools from grades K-6. I had very little contact with my father from age 5 until I was 20. My brother was killed in gang violence when I was 10-years old, and I essentially became the man of the house.
Growing up in this environment was tough, and I made my fair share of mistakes. I continued to make poor choices throughout my teenage years and early adulthood. I had a son when I was young, and didn't treat his mother the way she deserved to be treated, and we separated. Looking back now, I realize how misguided I was, not having any father figures or examples to follow.
On the upside, growing up poor, I was conscientious and knew the effects of poverty, so I always worked hard, and I did fairly well for myself financially. I began working at LAX in 1999 for a private security company, and I quickly went through the ranks, becoming a shift manager. I eventually moved on to another company as a Contract Service Manager where I managed several contracts for airlines and a staff of about 250 employees. Even with a good job, I continued to make poor choices outside of work, living a flashy lifestyle above my means, partying, clubbing, late nights... you get the idea. I was headed in the wrong direction, and I had no clue where I was going.
And then â€“ 9/11 happened. I remember every aspect of the day, like a movie youâ€™ve seen 100 times. Iâ€™d been out late the night before at a sports bar watching Monday Night Football, and had a groggy start Tuesday morning. I was watching the news and ironing a pair of slacks to wear to work. The "Good Day LA" anchors on the local Fox affiliate announced breaking news and they showed the North Tower on fire, but they had not yet determined what happened. The story began to unfold and the horror began. A few short minutes later, on live television, the South Tower was struck by UA175, and the world knew the US was under attack. In the next 5-days that followed, my life was completely transformed.
Above everything else, 9/11 helped me discover what was most important in my life â€“ God and Family. The first person I called when I realized we were under attack was my sonâ€™s mother, to tell her that I loved her for the first time in over 2 years, and to make sure she knew that I was sorry for the mistakes I'd made, just in case Los Angeles was attacked. That Friday, when I picked up my son for my regular weekend visitation, she invited me to her church for Sunday service. On Sunday, September 16, 2001, I was baptized in church, turned my life over to the Lord, and I've never looked back. I became a completely different man that day, and my new life began. It turns out that call to my sonâ€™s mother was the best phone call I ever made â€“ we got back together, married on June 15, 2002, and have enjoyed over 9 years of wonderful marriage. She is the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and it took 9/11 for me to realize it.
Like many people who worked in aviation prior to 9/11, I joined TSA for the opportunity to make a real difference and to prevent another attack. I left a management position in the private sector that I enjoyed and began my TSA career as a member of the Mobile Screening Force on June 23, 2002, the day after my honeymoon ended. I attended basic screener training in Oklahoma City at the Mike Monroney Center with a very large class of superb individuals from all walks of life, some of whom I still keep in contact with today.
After rolling out JFK, GSO, and DCA airports over the next 3 months, I was given an opportunity to interview for a Screening Manager position at LAX. I enjoyed a great career at LAX, with the opportunity to serve in different functions, ultimately achieving the rank of Deputy Assistant Federal Security Director for Screening. In December of 2006, I accepted a promotion in Houston, TX as the Assistant Federal Security Director for Screening at IAH, where I remained until accepting a promotion in Chicago, IL as the Federal Security Director for MDW in December 2010. I am honored and proud to be one of only a small handful of FSDs in the country who has actually screened passengers, worn the TSO uniform, and worked my way up the ladder to become an FSD.
I have enjoyed watching TSA mature over the years and its triumphant and continuous evolution into a premier counterterrorism organization. I remember the old X-ray equipment, assorted hand wands, and ETD machines, the dingy white uniforms with yellow TSA patches, lifting heavy checked bags in crowded ticket lobbies, and the list goes on.
Today we have some of the finest people and technology available, newly constructed checkpoints, AT2 X-ray machines, AIT, inline baggage screening systems, professional blue uniforms, and even shinny gold badges. We should all be proud to be a part of a wonderful history, and excited about the opportunity to leave a legacy for the next generation of TSA employees to remember 30-40 years from now.
Wendell Hart, Indianapolis International (IND)
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I boarded an aircraft for a business trip, like many I had taken before. I had a job working for a logistics company and was headed to some customerâ€™s warehouse for a big meeting, like many I had been to before. I assumed I would be headed home in a few days, just like many times before, but that was not going to happen this time. Less than two hours later, my life changed forever.
I began to get suspicious that something was going on when our aircraft did not land on time. Then I realized we were circling the same area over and over. Then the flight crew announced that we were landing at a different airport than scheduled and they would have to rebook us to get us to our destination.
We landed at some tiny airport in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. I walked in the little terminal and saw everybody in the whole place gathered around a small television in a corner. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Now I was sure something was going on.
While we were in the air, the World Trade Center and Pentagon had been attacked. As we were all standing around trying to figure out where we were and what was going on, the reality that it must be terrorism was setting in. Flight 93 crashed less than 25 miles away from where we were standing. I was angry!
I tried for hours to reach my family to tell them I was fine but all circuits were busy. I watched the news non-stop. I checked into a hotel and let it all soak in. I decided I was so angry, I had to do something. I couldnâ€™t just wait around for them to attack us again.
My first thought was to rejoin the military. I was getting a little old for that and had children at home, so I saved that for plan B. Not too long after that, I started hearing that the government was planning to take over transportation security. I decided that would be perfect. I bided my time until the TSA was formed.
I was hired and attended the first class at Oklahoma City. I was also on the team that federalized the first airport â€“BWI. We went on to help federalize several airports that year before returning home when my home airport was federalized in September 2002.
Many years later, I still remember how angry I was on September 11, 2001, and how dangerously close I was to those tragedies. And I am still happy with the decision I made to take action to help ensure that it never happens again.
Stranded on Sept. 11, 2001
Kristen Hazelwood, T F Green State (PVD)
On September 11, 2001, I was on vacation in Italy with my husband. We had just spent an incredible two weeks traveling through Tuscany, enjoying spectacular views, great food, wine and the company of the locals we encountered. We arrived at our hotel in Rome in the afternoon on the day we thought would be our last in that beautiful country. Upon checking in, the desk clerk informed me that in fact, I would not be travelling home to the US the following day, at least not by air.
He told me of the "horrible accident" that had happened in my home country and urged me to go up to my room and turn on the TV. The world stopped for me the moment I saw what had happened only a few hours before. My young daughter was back at home and for the first time, I felt that I had no control over her safety. In the days before the trip, it never occurred to me I would not be able to come back to my country.
I cried as I looked out the window of my hotel and saw across the street our American Embassy, with hundreds of flowers tossed over the fence and strewn across the lawn. A handwritten sign, "for the children" hung on the rail.
I worked tirelessly for the next ten days, as I called and visited the airport desperately looking for a way home. I went to the Rome airport every day. Finally, I was able to get back to the states via Germany.
I got home and just cried and picked up my daughter.
Every time I see the planes flying into the building, I go right back to those days in Rome. I felt I had no personal control over my daughter's safety and that's the worst feeling in the world.
When I saw jobs with TSA available in 2006, I flashed right back to what happened to me in Rome. That was what I wanted to do because it impacted me personally. Working for TSA today is a way for me to help keep my children and all other children safe from what happened ten years ago.
Spending time with former President GHW Bush on 9/11
James Dionne, Bangor International (BGR)
On September 11, I was called by a friend who shouted "turn on the TV!" I watched in disbelief the destruction of the twin towers and the horrific attack on our soil. At the time I operated an outdoors store in Kennebunkport, Maine and operated a fly-fishing guiding business.
I have been personal friends with the Bush family for over twenty years and served as President GHW Bush's fishing guide for many years. Kennebunkport, Maine was a ghost town on this day, with no one on the streets of the small town â€“ only the sound of fixed wing aircraft circling overhead and near the Bush compound just one mile away from my store. I wondered about my friend and strongly wanted to voice my support for him, his son (President Bush) and his family. I asked my trusty friend Todd to accompany me from the Kennebunk river in my 18 ft guide boat over towards Walker's Point.
At the time, this was probably not the wisest move, as the security was heightened to a level never seen before. I knew most of the Secret Service Officers personally and they knew me and my boat. I slowly motored off the rocks near Walker's Point, which is the Bush Compound. To my surprise President GHW Bush and two SS Officers approached us in their boat. Keep in mind there was a destroyer a quarter mile away and several jets circling overhead.
My friend looked worn asking,"what are you doing out here Jimmy?â€. I said, â€œI just wanted to make sure that you were okayâ€. President Bush then said, â€œthanks for being a good friendâ€ and "say a prayer for my boy George." I replied "yes, sir."
As he turned back with his boat toward the dock, I said aloud, "hey President Bush..." and he replied, "yeah Jim." I then pointed toward the large flag on his property and said,"Sir, those colors never run."
He smiled and said, "no they sure don't Jim."
Over the next few months the TSA was formed and I visited my friend at his home on Walker's Point. I told him that I was not asking for anything, but I wanted very much to help out the effort. I asked him what would be the avenue to joining the new agency that his son and the U.S. Congress had put together. I received a call the very next day and was asked to put a resume together.
Several months later I joined the TSA as a Security Manager and have been in the position for almost nine years as of this writing. I still visit often, I am proud to serve our country and feel I am in the company of the finest security professionals in the world.
Moira and Ray
Pedro Velazquez, Logan International (BOS)
Moira was the lone female police officer killed on September 11 from the New York City Police Department. One of the witnesses of her last few minutes of life places her coming in and out of the towers with injured people. She left behind a daughter and a grieving husband.
Ray was a grandfather and an awesome human being. I was honored to call him my friend. He always had a smile and a question about how you were doing. The kind of person that actually wanted to know. He died saving others at the World Trade Center.
I was performing a school safety post on overtime after a midnight tour. I walked over to the corner and looked up to the North Tower to see the hole that AA Flight 11 left. I thought it strange that the hole was so big and so centered. I ran to the Station House and ten of us jumped in a van. We were at the WTC within minutes. Our driver went down Broadway.
Our sergeant told us to stay together but the chaos that ensued made that impossible. We were first assigned to maintain a perimeter so that the NYFD and EMS could tend to the injured people and the fires. That was easier said than done when there were a few of us and dozens of people trying to get in or telling you about their loved ones needing help upstairs. We couldn't get a word in edgewise as the radio was constantly busy with communications between the dispatchers and the officers.
And then United Flight 175 hit the South Tower a few hundred meters away from us. At that time it hit me that we were under attack. The radio transmitted a message that more planes were missing so I assumed that they could be on their way. I took it upon myself to evacuate the buildings in the periphery of the towers. I entered the buildings and ordered the security personnel to evacuate the buildings and for people to head away from the towers.
As I was moving from building to building up Center St., I was horrified to see the people jumping from the towers. I wanted to help them but there was nothing that I could do for them. I felt so useless.
I was at the corner of Vessey and West when the South Tower came down. A picture taken by Bill Biggart shows me looking up in the company of some Emergency Service officers. We headed South to see if we could rescue any survivors. I think that action saved our lives because Mr. Biggart was killed when the North Tower fell.
Of course there were no survivors. We were foolish to think that anyone could survive that. We asked the photographers to help us dig. To their credit they put their cameras down and helped us. We went to an NYPD Emergency Truck that was blown sideways like a toy. We grabbed some shovels and pick axes and dug frantically until we realized the futility of it.
When the North Tower came down we knew what the cloud was. I braced myself and took a mental note of a building nearby so that I could walk in there and breathe. I closed my eyes and walked until I reached the building's wall and felt my way to the front doors. A fireman grabbed my hand and guided me to a sink where I washed my face. I ran back to the door and flashed my flashlight outside so anyone nearby could follow the light to the building.
I remember at one point grabbing a fire extinguisher from a building and putting out fires. There are scenes from that day that I don't want to remember so forgive me for not being more detailed.
To all the officers out there, and every one of the thousands of people that become the layers that keep our traveling public safe â€“ thank you. Daily, you prevent tragedies like 9/11 from happening again. I had a passenger tell me once that we haven't caught a terrorist since 9/11. I thought about that for a while and then realized that they don't come because we are here.
So be proud of the service that you give to your country. At the end of the day, it is about getting those mothers and fathers home to their kids, safe and sound, and those kids home to their parents.
Heroes, Courage and Patriotism
Marcia Sarola, New Orleans International (MSY)
On September 11, 2001, I was in my classroom watching over my students struggling with a new book for upcoming book reports. The Vice Principal came to the door of the room and whispered to me about what was happening in New York. She came back a few minutes later to allow me to check it out for myself, knowing that I used to live in Manhattan. Trying to explain what was happening to my 4-6th graders was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. Lesson plans were thrown out, and we researched heroes, courage and patriotism for their book reports. This theme spilled over into projects all year. My students helped me design a quilt with a 9/11 theme to express our feelings about that day. The children followed the quilt's progress with great interest through all the stages. When completed, the quilt was displayed in the lobby of the school for the rest of the year.
Almost four years later another life changing event occurred in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina came and went, washing away my job along with half the city. When the first newspaper made it in from Baton Rouge, there in the center was a full page ad for TSA. After much reflection and discussion with an incredulous spouse, I cranked up the generator, plugged in the computer and applied. Sitting in a house with no electricity in a city in lock-down and under marshal law gives you plenty of time to reflect. The lessons and student reactions from 9/11 came flooding back. Several months later I found myself in another classroom, but this time in a new role as a TSA new-hire. I am very proud of this last phase of my professional life. Putting on the uniform gives me the same rush of emotion that my students' 9/11 quilt still generates in me. It's all just a matter of heroes, courage and patriotism.
I Mostly Remember the Flags
Lawrence Swartwood, Jacksonville International (JAX)
I mostly remember the flags that clear bright September Day. I know that sounds odd, and I should have remembered something more striking or sacred, or feelings of vengeance perhaps, but the flags spoke and expressed my feelings in a way I could not.
Kingston, New York is a tiny town, tucked away near the Catskill Mountains 100 miles north of New York City. This is where I heard the news. It did not matter, for I may as well been sitting right in the middle of Manhattan on that moment. The ripples of tragedy struck hard and fast, wave after wave, cloaking me that morning in an eerie, heavy shroud of silence that seemed to fall upon me like an executioner's axe. That was until the flags came.
They did not appear right away, but rather one by one, here and there, on the cars, on the houses, attached to the trees, to the telephone poles, one after another until the landscape was nothing but a sea of red, white and blue on the backdrop of an American catastrophe. I found solace in those flags. The way they waved in the wind as if to echo the voices of those who sacrificed, of those who died and of those left behind to bear the burden of grief.
I realized then how that banner and my love for this country runs as deep in my veins as my own blood. I cannot deny it, and I cannot ignore it. I knew what the flags were saying to me. This was not the first time this has happened and it will not be the last. The flags reminded me of every American that paid the ultimate sacrifice and how we must carry on at all costs and not take our freedom for granted.
I cried that day and the flags listened.
They will always listen.
My path to TSA
Valerie Espinoza, McCarran International (LAS)
As the events of 9/11 unfolded on the television screen, I remember wishing that I had found a way to serve. Over the next few months, finding a place to make a difference was often on my mind. My days as a mom, wife, homemaker and family life had filled the years but were all behind me now, it was just me.
At the prompting and encouragement of my 85 year old father I stepped up and applied for a position with TSA. I reported for assessment, processing and testing on what was, by far, the most grueling 18 hour day I had ever endured. The offer of employment as a LTSO followed and I was scheduled to report for training.
As I prepared to be sworn into TSA, I suddenly remembered a previous oath I had recited. My Oath of Allegiance when I became a citizen of the United States of America.
It was nearly 40 years before 9/11 that the Consulate General at the Immigration and Naturalization Office interviewed me prior to the naturalization ceremony for me, my sister and my parents. He spoke to me alone and I remember feeling very accomplished, independent and grown up. During the interview he asked me if I understood that I may be called upon to bear arms against Great Britain, defending the United States, if war were ever declared between the two countries.
I had very recently been refused the position of alter boy at my church, just because I was a girl, so I was truly amazed at what he was saying to me. I interrupted him and asked, "Do you mean they let girls be soldiers here?'" He laughed so loud that I nearly broke into tears. He took me by the hand, into the hall where my parents were waiting, and escorted me right past them to the judgesâ€™ chambers where he shared my question with his colleagues. They all roared with laughter and congratulated me on my pending citizenship.
On November 17, 2002, as I raised my right hand, I wondered if the Consulate General would have been proud that I found a place to serve.
On November 9, 2008, my daughter joined TSA. As she raised her right hand and took her oath, I reaffirmed mine. As a Security Manager and Mother, I was overcome with pride.
Yes, I believe the Consulate General would be proud, of both of us.
From Then to Now
Samuel Luks, Modesto City County (MOD)
My journey to TSA is like that of most â€“ a desire to serve my country in time of need.
At the time, I was working for American Airlines as a Reservations Agent in the Las Vegas Office. I had recently been selected for training on a new system that AA was working on, so my day was going to be 9-5, which wasn't my normal shift.
As I was getting up, I received a phone call to "Turn on the Television!" When I asked what channel, my mother in-law said "It doesn't matter, it is all the same!" On CNN was footage of American Airlines Flight 11 crashing into the first tower.
My thought was it had have been some kind of accident. They replayed the footage a few more times, then another image was shown. The announcer said it was another angle of the crash, but he turned out to be wrong. What we had just watched was a live video feed. I knew our world was never going to be the same.
I went to work that day, trying to help my passengers understand what was going on and, at the same time, get a grasp of the magnitude of the situation.
With the FAA grounding all air travel, we had to work with our partners and passengers to ensure that they were safe and eventually get them to where they needed to go.
About a year later, I learned of a new airport security opportunity that was being set-up by the government. My wife and her mother were going to apply, and they urged me to go as well. At first I was reluctant, but reconsidered when I found out my office was closing, and they were furloughing employees.
My wife and I were in the second class of officers that was sworn in by FSD Blair and assumed screening duties at LAS in September of 2002.
Over the years, I have worked at Las Vegas (LAS), Crescent City (CEC), Eureka (ACV) and finally ended up in Modesto (MOD). I have had the great opportunity to advance from a Screener to Lead to Supervisor. With each move and advancement, I have grown more, both professional and personally.
Every year, I re-take my Oath, not just to take it, but to remind myself what I am here â€“ to never let the tragedies of September 11, 2002 happen again. Not on my watch.
As I look back, I know that we have done a great job, but there is more to be done.
An Average American Woman
J.F., San Jose International (SJC)
My story is not remarkable. Itâ€™s just about an average American woman who found a way to serve her country after an ordinary day turned extraordinary. I vividly remember the events of September 11th. It was an ordinary morning and I was getting ready for work when my husband appeared in the doorway with a shocked look on his face and yelled, â€œCome look at this - they attacked the World Trade Center and now theyâ€™ve attacked the Pentagon! What the heck is going on?.â€
I ran to see the television screen and couldnâ€™t believe my eyes. I grabbed the remote and frantically flipped through the channels to confirm the awful reality of it. Then we stood there, transfixed, watching the horror as the towers collapsed. I still recall the sick feeling in the pit of my gut, and the total helplessness I felt as we watched the tragic events unfold. I felt an overwhelming urge to do something, anything to help, but wasnâ€™t sure where to turn. I decided to call the Red Cross to find out where I could go to donate blood. The person who took my call wasnâ€™t able to direct me anywhere, so I called another office and got the same response. Later, we all discovered the grim reality that there wouldnâ€™t be much need for blood.
Over the next few months, I heard news reports about a new federal agency being formed and I pondered the possibility of working for that new agency. My husband and I had been self-employed for 21 years and the thought of stepping into a whole new world was daunting. However, I still had a deep-seated yearning to satisfy my desire to serve my country, and I knew that as a 40-something-year-old woman, I couldnâ€™t exactly join the military and follow in my Dadâ€™s footsteps.
As fate would have it, I saw a story on the local evening news about the TSA hiring process going on at a local hotel. I wrote down the website address and began my journey. In the back of my mind, I kept telling myself I could always quit if it wasnâ€™t what I expected. Well, this November 22nd marks 9 years since my first day of training as a baggage screening officer. I (and my family and friends) have always been proud of my work for TSA. I am reminded daily why we are here, and knowing that our vigilant efforts are helping protect our country is a tremendous source of pride.
During my tenure at TSA, I have been fortunate to have served in several roles. I was the Customer Support and Quality Improvement Manager/Stakeholder Manager for a couple of years, and am now the full-time ICMS Coordinator. I also spent 3 years as a Training Specialist, and other than actually screening passengers and baggage for dangerous items, I canâ€™t think of a more satisfying job â€“ making sure all our officers have the best knowledge, skills and abilities to accomplish TSAâ€™s mission.
The threat of terrorism still exists, but I know that because of the combined efforts of all of TSAâ€™s dedicated employees, my family and all our families can travel, knowing that everything possible is being done to ensure their safety. I continue to proudly serve my country by working for the Transportation Security Administration, and I pray we never have to face another tragic day like September 11, 2001.
9/11.....For My Brother
Cynthia Bonanno, Orange County John Wayne (SNA)
I am currently a Master Behavior Detection Officer at John Wayne Airport (SNA). I began my career with TSA on November 23rd, 2002 as a Checked Baggage Screener. I rose through the ranks quickly and became a Lead and then Supervisor. My 9/11 story, unlike so many, has a happy ending, but you will understand clearly my inspiration for joining TSA â€“ I was an Inside Sales Rep for an accounting software manufacturer here in sunny Southern California back then. My sales territory was on the East Coast, so my hours were 0600 to 1430. I was at my desk when news of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center came over the wire. Then the second plane hit. I don't need to tell you of the horror that I felt at that moment because WE ALL FELT IT. As we were gathered around a co-worker's computer watching CNN, with utter disbelief, news of the attack on the Pentagon then became known. At that moment, I knew that I had to act quickly. I left work immediately and drove to my parents' home, 15 minutes away. My family needed me, now more than ever. Allow me to cut to the chase - my brother, USAF LT. COL. Peter Bonanno was assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and had been there since 1999....I made several phone calls to my sister-in-law, Peter's wife, back in Virginia, but she, like us, were unable to locate my brother. No means of communicating with him. We didn't know if the plane struck the side of the building where Peter's office was located. I tried to keep my family from losing hope. With so much heartbreak that day, it was a difficult task. It wasn't until late that evening when we finally received word from Peter's wife that she had finally heard from him and that he was safe. As we all felt the relief, I knew then what I had to do. TSA gave me my new mission in life, and there's not a day that goes by that I don't think about it.....In closing, I still get to enjoy my big brother, but I haven't forgotten that so many are not as fortunate.
The Love for My Country
Diamantino Conceicao, Antonio B. Won Pat International (GUM)
It was a day I will never forget for as long as I live. It was around 11:00 p.m. on September 11, 2001. I was a Corrections Officer on Guam waiting to be relieved that night. While I was waiting to be relived I was in the inmates day room and the TV was on with a good movie showing when all of a sudden the screen started showing the 1st tower getting hit. I said to myself, â€œThis is a crazy movie.â€ I changed the channel and again it was showing the same thing. I said to myself what is going on with the cable channels, but when I changed the channel to CNN, I realized that this wasn't a movie on TV â€“ it was the real thing.
I woke up my wife on the phone and told her what was going on. As soon as I got off work about 30 minutes later, I raced home and started calling back home to Newark, New Jersey â€“ where I am originally from. I was checking on my family and friends and they were providing more details. I had friends who worked at the World Trade Center. Thanks to whatever power above, they were on vacation at the shore.
I will be the first to admit that I cried that night in Guam trying to make sense of what was going on back home. Thinking about all the lives that were taken and for what reason, as well as the families that are suffering and will to continue to suffer. This did not only affect those in the World Trade Center, the field in PA or the Pentagon, but the whole of the United States and the whole world.
That day I decided that somehow, some way, some day, I would be able to do something again for my country. Funny part is that I was still serving in the U.S. Army reserve and started TSA Guam on September 29, 2002. Up until now, when I reflect back to 9-11-2001 or even talk about it, I cry.
There is a phrase that the late President John F. Kennedy said that I truly believe in and it goes like this " ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU, BUT WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY.â€ For me, it's being part of a Great Nation and Team and that is being a Transportation Security Officer for TSA and for " The Love for my Country." I hope that one day the whole world could live in peace and harmony. One more thing, friends, Guam is a day ahead of the U.S. Mainland.