In September 2001 I was a contract writer for militarylife.com and I lived on Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico. At the time of the attacks on the twin towers I was up early at the gym working out. I watched the news with no sound, opting for my own music instead. I saw the burning towers, but couldn’t place where it was. I thought the plane must be a small Cessna. I had just plugged my headset in to the news to hear what was going on when the second plane crashed.
I continued on the treadmill for a few minutes trying to work out in my mind what happened before heading home. I came in and announced, “I probably got this wrong, but I think planes have hit the Twin Towers on purpose.” I had no clue that within hours the world as I knew it was about to change. This is the post I wrote for militarylife.com the day after the Towers fell.
Distant Shock: Military Bases Go into Extreme-Security Mode
Kirtland AFB, N.M., Sept. 13, 2001 — Two days ago my biggest worry was hiding birthday presents from my kids. Today I worry that I will have enough milk for their breakfast. The military base I live on has been sealed for security reasons. All non-essential personnel are refused entry at the gate by heavily armed guards, whose attitude is grim and all business. If the guards don’t deter people from trying to enter the base, the massive steel humvee with its barrel pointed directly at incoming traffic will.
Our base is like a ghost town. The streets are empty except for patrols. Parents are keeping their children locked away inside. School is closed indefinitely. The commissary looks strange sitting dark and empty in the middle of the day. Apparently store managers locked up so fast the day of the attacks that they left displays of soda sitting out unattended in the hot sun. The one store still open is the shoppette. More out of restlessness than need, I pack the kids in the car and we head there.
The atmosphere at the shoppette is subdued. I am relieved to see that gas is still the regular price, but the relief dies when I see the ration signs posted on every pump. No more than 10 gallons per customer, due to shortages. My tank is almost full, but I pull up anyway to get what I can. There is a police car pulled up next to the store, the officer is watching customers carefully. I find myself wondering what happens if someone pumps more than their share.
The cashier looks very sad as I pay for my gas. The line behind me is silent, no one feels like small talk today. I ask the cashier if she knows when the commissary will reopen.
“No one knows,” she says in a monotone voice, “we’re taking it day by day.”
Day by day is too vague for me. I want regular hours posted where I can see them. I want to depend on grocery stores, schools, and libraries. The faces around me reflect what I’m feeling. Silently, I pick up some milk, noticing the dwindling quantities.
Even the kids are quiet as we drive back to our neighborhood. The empty streets seem like they are holding their breath, waiting for more news. Ahead of me, nailed to a tree, is a handwritten sign. I slow the car down to read it.
“What’s it say?” asks my daughter. My two sons in the back seat are alert now, peering through the windows at the brown cardboard. I read the sign to myself first, and then smile.
“It says, ‘God Bless America’,” I answer. I pull the van over, and we all sit admiring the simple reminder of who we are and all we have. My eyes are tearing up.
“We are blessed,” I finally say. My tone is much bolder now than it has been since this crisis began. Worries about milk, gas, and school suddenly seem unimportant. “No matter what happens, we are blessed to be here. Let’s save our gas and go home. We’ve got things to do.”
“Yeah,” says my daughter, “I want to draw a flag to hang in my window.”
The original post is still available at militarylife.com.