I will never forget where I was when it happened. Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I was a assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, 502nd Infantry Regiment. Their famous for being the first unit in history to parachute into combat. So there's a reputation for being completely insane to live up to, and we all did our best.
The dining facility had two mirror image dining rooms. One being used for eating your three daily squares, the other for shamming. It's an E-4 paradise. I should know, I spent a great deal of time there taking unauthorized breaks. In fact that's where I was when it happened. Shamming.
I had turned on the standard issue wall mounted television to eat by, but every channel had the same picture, two big buildings, towers, one with smoke billowing out of the side of it. It was live and everyone was panicking, speculating what had just happen, and why. The newscaster was talking when I reached up to change the channel and I saw the second plane hit. I was overwhelmed by several waves of goosebumps. You know the ones that make you want to put on a thick winter coat.
I knew instantly, the world had just changed forever.
I ran to the other side, the other dining room where over a hundred soldiers were eating and turned on every TV, by that time it didn't matter which station it was on.
What happened next was equally shocking. I stood watching as everyone else shared my realization. War. everyone had a different response, some hung there heads, some yelled and pounded the table spilling their soda, some held a poker face. Some dropped everything, some left calmly and quietly. Some didn't know what to do.
Within seconds the training kicked in, and everyone instinctively reported to their units for instructions. within minutes there were crowds of uniformed soldiers camouflaging buildings, waiting for a briefing. Hurry up and wait. It's the first thing the Army teaches you, they just don't teach you to do it very well. Fear takes over and insecure speculation spirals out of control.
I heard non-commissioned officers contemplating desertion. Canada... or Mexico. Evacuation plan alpha.
I saw privates right out of boot wringing their hands together, they couldn't wait to prove their manhood by killing someone. To be a hero, just like in the movies.
I have seen it a hundred times since that day. People talk and talk about how tough they are. But when that lightning bolt of reality hits their tower, you see what people are really made of. I am always inspired by some and disappointing by others. You never know which ones are which, or which one you are, until the shit hits the fan.
I will never forget where I was when it happened.