Kentucky Airmen remember 9/11, honor the fallen

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By Master Sgt. Phil Speck, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

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Brig. Gen. Michael Dornbush (left), chief of joint staff for the Kentucky National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters, and Chief Master Sgt. James Smith, state command chief master sergeant (right), prepare to place a wreath in front of the 9/11 Memorial Sculpture at Waterfront Park in Louisville, Ky., Sept. 11, 2011, during city’s 10th anniversary observance of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The sculpture is made from steel taken from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. — On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States, Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard paid tribute Sept. 11 to the thousands of service members whose sacrifice has made America more secure since 2,977 people were killed in New York, Pennsylvania and The Pentagon a decade ago.

The observances began at 7 a.m., when members of the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron ran an 11-mile course circling Louisville International Airport. The run was followed by a base-wide minute of silence at 8:46 a.m., the exact moment the first airliner struck the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. Airmen also gathered in their duty sections to watch a video presentation depicting unit members’ deployments over the past 10 years; view a recorded message from the 123rd Airlift Wing commander, Col. Greg Nelson; and share their memories of that tragic day.

Off base, aircrew members from the Kentucky Air Guard performed two-ship C-130 flyovers for the city’s American Freedom commemoration at Waterfront Park in downtown Louisville and at the closing ceremonies of the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall exhibit at Resthaven Memorial Park.

The Kentucky Air Guard has deployed personnel overseas more than 3,400 times since 9/11, and it continually supports the Global War on Terror with an array missions here at home — facts Nelson alluded to in his message to the troops.

“Whether you’ve deployed overseas or supported here at home, whether you came out in the middle of the night to help us launch an aircraft or you’ve been here the moment that we came back, every single person in the 123rd Airlift Wing has helped since 9/11 and served their nation and the Commonwealth,” Nelson said.

Airman 1st Class Kyle Reeder, a cybersurety technician in the 123rd Communications Flight, found himself gazing at the base’s flag, which was at half-staff, during the minute of silence.

“I thought about the families and those that have been affected,” he said. “I thought about how everything changed that day.”

Maj. Wes Robinson said his mother-in-law was in town that morning and told him there was “a bomb or explosion” at the World Trade Center. “I was watching the smoke come up (on TV), and sure enough, I saw the second plane hit. Not everybody knows what they were doing when the first plane hit, but everyone remembers the second one.”

Jane Lee of Louisville, Ky., creates a rubbing from a soldier’s name during closing ceremonies for the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall at Resthaven Memorial Park in Louisville, on Sept. 11, 2011. Lee, whose first husband served in Vietnam, chose the name at random because, she said, “everyone here is important — each one of these people gave their all in service to our country.” (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Robinson, who was a flight engineer at the time, soon found himself in the air aboard a C-130 at a time when commercial air traffic was still grounded.

“I remember flying the next time, and it was so quiet,” he said. “When you’re flying around, you’re always talking to someone. But there wasn’t a word on the radios. It was very eerie.”

The attacks inspired Robinson to earn his commission, and he now serves as a navigator for the 165th Airlift Squadron.

Like many in the wing, Robinson found that the operational tempo changed extensively after 9/11. He has deployed twice for Operation Noble Eagle, four times for Operation Iraqi Freedom and three times for Operation Enduring Freedom.

Airman 1st Class Reymart Relos, a food service specialist with the 123rd Services Flight, was a 10-year-old resident of the Philippines when he saw the towers crumble. “I remember the buildings on fire and falling,” the Airman said. “My aunt was crying. Everyone was upset.”

The year after the attacks, Relos immigrated with his family to the United States, and he became a citizen two years ago. The Airman graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training on June 24.

“I’m still in shock,” he said. “Whenever I thought of America, those buildings were the ones I thought of.”

The wing commander closed the day by thanking Airmen for their patriotism and reminding them how critical their support is to the nation’s defense.

“We appreciate your service, and we ask you to continue the fight,” Nelson said. “Be ready every day, and remember.”

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