Picture this: You wake up and the first thing you see is the beautiful sunshine of the Aloha State. The smell of the seawater mixed with the joy of being on your own makes serving your country feel like freshman year at college.
This was reality for me, an 18-year-old airman living the dream in Hawaii on September 10, 2001. As we all know, the very next morning, at approximately 0845 Eastern Time, things would change for the military, the country, and the world at large.
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Here's what people in the military experienced immediately.
4. Getting on base got harder.
During my first few weeks as a Security Forces airman, I was planted at the gate.
I stood in the center of a three-lane highway, decked out in short-sleeved blues complete with a crisp white ascot, perched in my small, brick pulpit waving traffic in and rendering salutes according to base vehicle decals. It was fun for a while, and all that saluting actually gave me quite the jailhouse pump.
But I digress.
After 9/11, there were entire teams assigned to the gate. Vehicle searches became an absolute necessity and people started to have a bit more empathy for the gate guard.
What all gate guards used to look like. (Photo from Joint Base Andrews).
3. Separating pretty much stopped.
Two words. Just two words could ruin your day and change your life after 9/11.
It's well known that the U.S. Army was heavily affected by stop-loss. What's lesser known is just how much stop-loss affected the entire military. Suddenly, we found ourselves looking at involuntary active service extensions — we were all stuck in the suck together.
Also, leave was an absolute no-go.
2. Deployments got longer (a lot longer).
Before 9/11, U.S. Air Force deployments were typically around three months — or less.
In the immediate aftermath following 9/11, it wasn't uncommon for airmen to be gone for 8-12 months at a time. This pales in comparison to our older brothers in green, but it was quite the change of culture for airmen.
A long way from home? Check. Isolation? Check. Fatigue? Triple check. (Image by Paul Davis)
1. Life got real.
Obviously, life was completely different after the events of 9/11. For airmen, it meant a lot of changes happening really fast.
Before 9/11, the amount of "in-service" friends deploying was minimal, especially if you weren't SOF, Security Forces, or Civil Engineering. The tempo was such that we could all properly maintain our duties without augmentation.
Suddenly, family members expressed much more concern than they had prior. This isn't to say that they didn't care before 9/11, but when a newfound element of danger cropped up and put everyone at risk, you started to hear from loved ones more often.
Since then, every service member (yes, even in the "Chair Force") has had to face threats and fight for our country, in some way, day in and day out. There was conflict to be had by all.
Some gave all. (USAF photo by A1C Christopher Quail)