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Where were you when the world stopped turning?

  • Published
  • By Col. Janet Deltuva
  • Air Force Global Strike Command Deputy Command Surgeon
"Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?"

These words from a country song by Alan Jackson are stirring. It's a song we all wish did not have to be written.

"Where were you on that September morn?"

What were you doing? Do you remember? Most importantly - what did you learn?

We may not appreciate our freedom on a day-to-day basis, but you only need to live for a moment without freedom to appreciate how truly valuable it is.

I was working in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, at the Air Force Colonels' Group. We were preparing for the annual Colonel's Command Screening Board, when someone in the office got a telephone call. He said we needed to turn on the TV in the boss's office--a plane had struck the World Trade Center.

As we were trying to figure out what was happening, there was a loud screeching sound and a deafening "THUD!" The building just rattled. We were in the flight pattern for Reagan airport, so we heard planes all of the time, but this was different. Everybody knew something big had happened, and we had to get out of the building.

As we were evacuating, we could see the thick, black smoke billowing skyward across the Pentagon Courtyard. Without thinking, I found my way to the Pentagon medical clinic, grabbed a box of medical supplies and navigated to the courtyard. I opened the box and began working with medics from all services to provide triage and care to those injured.

Suddenly, an urgent voice came over someone's brick "Evacuate! Evacuate the courtyard, inbound plane, two minutes out!" I remember thinking and feeling that we were under attack. We began grabbing supplies, moving the injured on litters and escorting ambulatory patients...always crouching and looking skyward for the inbound plane.

And then, off in the distance, came the sound of an airplane...and for a few desperate moments we all thought it was the next wave of attacks.

But just a second later someone shouted, "It's one of our guys! It's an F-16!"

Through the cheers and the tears in the courtyard, I felt freedom like I had never experienced it before. As that F-16 screamed overhead, I knew we were all safe once again.

To this day, I have not forgotten how it felt to move in fear, cowering and crouching--in my own country--at my job--no less, and the feeling when freedom was restored.

So today at Barksdale Air Force Base, I say a little prayer every time I see or hear a B-52 take off. I pray that the pilot and crew transit the skies safely to their next location. And, when I lie in bed at night and hear those B-52s returning, I say another little prayer to thank God for bringing everyone home safely.

On this 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, it would be easy to choose to be scared or angry...
It would be easy to choose to blame or hate...a particular group of people, a nation, or even worse, to judge or hate a faith.

So, let me offer some alternatives...

· Choose to live with compassion.
· Choose to give everyone a fair chance.
· Choose to remember and pray for the families who lost so much 10 years ago.
· Choose to honor "today's heroes"--our military, police, firefighters, medical emergency personnel and other first responders.
· Choose to be "ready" in your spiritual life, in your relationships and with your disaster kit for your home.

And if you would like...if you find it comforting...choose to remember freedom, as I have.

Editor's note: The above commentary was taken from remarks Col. Deltuva will give as the keynote speaker a Bossier City event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.