In Your Own Words - Federal Air Marshal J. Bethea reflects on 9/11

Tuesday, August 31, 2021
In Your Own Words - Federal Air Marshal J. Bethea reflects on 9/11

As we approach the 20th anniversary of September 11, TSA would like to rekindle that national unity and remind the next generation about why we serve. We asked TSA employees to submit a personal essay on how 9/11 impacted them, and how that has translated to their service to country and commitment to the TSA mission.  You can view all essay submissions by visiting the TSA 9/11 iShare site from a TSA computer.

20 Years Protecting the Nation: United by Memory, Together in Mission

It was an early fall morning as my family drove through New York City, my older brother pointed out to me, "Look, it's the twin towers!" I looked with amazement and excitement as we rode by the magnificent skyscraper. Just a few days later we prepared to leave the city after attending my grandmother's funeral. It was late at night on September 9, 2001, when we rode by the World Trade Center one last time. My family and I made it back safely to our hometown on Monday, September 10, 2001.

After being out of town for four days, I was anxious to return back to school. I assumed this would be a normal Tuesday. First period class had ended, the bell rang as it was time for second period. I was one of the first students to arrive in class. I witnessed my teacher screaming, as I saw a chair fly across the room. At this point, I became terrified as I watched him frantically crying. I looked up at the television, my eyes couldn't believe what I saw. There were gasps, screams, and tears. We just witnessed the second plane as it crashed into Tower 2. It had only been two days since I last saw the World Trade Center standing. I became sad and even more confused. September 11, 2001 would be a day that I remembered forever. I was hurting for the lives that were lost and the families that were affected. I remember thinking, what can I do to protect our fellow people and country?

It had been sixteen years since the tragedy of 9/11. My chance came, I was finally going to be able to protect our people. I spent an extended amount of time learning, studying, and understanding the mission. I was among a diverse group of individuals who had the same desire as me. Through all of the differences, our common factor was united by memory. I shared my memories, I listened to the memories of others, it was then confirmed, we came together in mission.

In September 2017, I was proudly sworn into oath to protect our nation against terrorism. I vowed to protect and serve with Integrity, Respect, and Commitment. I experienced a mixture of emotions. I was excited, I was proud of the calling that I had accepted. I started to think about all of the lives that were lost during these tragic events. I remembered witnessing the second tower as it fell to the ground, and I remember the visual of riding by the World Trade Center and waving one last time. September 11, 2001 is a day I will never forget. The tragic events united us all by memory, as we now stand together in mission.

Federal Air Marshal J. Bethea, ATLFO