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Commentary: We will not be broken

  • Published
  • By Charisse McNeal
  • Air Force Recruiting Service, 318th Recruiting Squadron Flight Administrator
Editor's Note: Charisse McNeal is an Air Force veteran who served as a medical technician then administration for over seven years in the late 1980s. She began working with Air Force Recruiting Service in Arlington, Va. in 2009.

On Sept. 11, 2001, as I poured my coffee and dressed my kid, read my newspaper and giggled with my co-workers, I wondered what would be my next travel destination. Little did I know that my world and my country would change that day and would never be the same again.

On that gorgeous Tuesday morning, I was working as an interline travel specialist for a major airline carrier, headquartered in Crystal City, Va., located along the Ronald Reagan National Airport flight line just blocks from the Pentagon. As a resident of Virginia, an employee in the Washington metro area and an American, I felt as empowered and as indomitable as the buildings which stood around me. The view out the far left of my office window stood the Capitol, down further erect and strong, the Lincoln Memorial, to the side is the Vietnam War Memorial and down a bit, the Korean Memorial. In the center of all of this is the WWII Memorial and to the side and down the hill, the White House. These institutions have protected us, nurtured us and taught us what it means to be an American and that home is where the heart is and this was our home ...good or bad. And at that moment in time it seemed that nothing could break us as a nation, nor harm us, and that no one person could change our future or our lives.

As I stood in a hallway at work and watched on television the second plane hit the tower in New York and heard of the third plane to hit the Pentagon, I was literally incapacitated and uncertain of what to do. I wanted to comfort someone and tell them it would be "alright," but I was in such a state of disbelief that I couldn't conjure up the strength to pull words out. I was absolutely bewildered and motionless; and just remember thinking Americans were always the big guys in the fight. But we can't fight what we can't see, and we couldn't see anything in that instant. I was blinded and blindsided within those two and a half hours on that fall morning. It was as if we were all targets and there was nowhere any of us could hide. My co-workers and I all felt as if we were under attack. We didn't know where the next plane would hit so we all just stood very still and very calm. There was no one crying or screaming. We were outwardly professional and focused, wanting to know which planes were hijacked and if any were our airline's planes. Yet privately, I believe we were all in full and complete panic mode with thoughts of our family, future, career, country and jobs.

For weeks after, I cried sporadically as I watched the coverage on television. I watched the coverage of victims jumping out of the tower windows, families of the victims in the crashes, and coverage of the thousands of photos of the missing. I watched the gray skies of my home state of New York linger with concrete dust, blood and the body parts of my American citizens and was still in disbelief.

With so much pain in my heart and so much pride for my country I understood that we hadn't lost anything as a nation because as I continued to watch the television I saw ALL Americans -- of different races, creeds, nationalities, and genders -- helping each other. There was no end to the gallantry, sacrifice and perseverance as we supported the stranger next to us and each supporting the other. And as they would wipe the blood and soot off of their faces, I thought again that no one could break us as a nation.

I feel that the future generation of Airmen will have to become fearless because there are new threats and a new enemy at our door. We now live in a different world. I think that government and non-government civilians must do all we can to serve and to assist our Airman and our military as they protect us and our homeland, now more than ever before in our nation's history.

We are Americans.