We got him - never forget

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- We got him! A watershed moment in the history of the United States, as America's Navy Seals were able to covertly land in a compound in Pakistan and kill Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 terror attacks that claimed thousands of American lives. As the president made the official announcement on May 1 -- "May Day" -- it made me immediately reflect on that horrible September morning back in 2001.

I was just arriving at my desk at the Air Force Surgeon General's office at Bolling AFB in Washington, D.C. My curiosity was raised because Tom Brokaw was announcing the news on the 'Today Show' and he normally did the NBC Evening News. As I watched in true amazement at the TV reports of jets flying into the New York Twin Towers, Col. Don Taylor ran over to me and literally grabbed me by the arm.

He took me over to his office in the Maisey Building that looked across the Potomac River. And there it was, a huge plume of thick black smoke climbing high in the sky - the Pentagon had been attacked. Moments later, hundreds of us were evacuating our building as fighter jets were launched at supersonic speed from Andrews AFB. Panic, chaos and uncertainty were everywhere as we formed on the parade grounds on the Potomac side of our building.

An Air Force member with no rank on came up to me and asked "Who was in charge?" I escorted her over to Maj. Gen. Jim Roudebush, Deputy Air Force Surgeon General. She said, "General, I'm Col. "X" in charge of security for Bolling, please take off your rank now. I also have information from my sources that there is a plane destined to "land" in the National Capitol Region - please stay on alert."

The plane the colonel was referring to was United Flight 93 that was ultimately taken down by passengers in Stoneycreek Township, Pa. Moments later, three helicopters were landing near where we had evacuated. Exiting from the helicopters was Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. James Roche and Air Force Chief of Staff, General John Jumper, who had taken his position less than a week before. A security detail led them to our building to set up their alternate facility operations. I will never forget as both the secretary and chief walked no more than five feet from me, there were no salutes or customary courtesies provided - we were in a war zone. As the arduous and troubling hours of our country crept forward and the smoke and its smell from the burning Pentagon continued, I remember looking across the Potomac River, past Washington Reagan Airport at the Pentagon and wondering - "Can this really be happening and what does this mean for our country?"

Now we find ourselves almost 10 years later; America's finest men and women in uniform have deployed, fought and many have given the ultimate sacrifice to win the global war on terror. Yes, Osama bin Laden is now thankfully gone, but we should not and cannot let our guard down as we keep our great country safe and free. We should "Never Forget."