The Changing of the Guard
Ten years after 9/11, what life is like in an Air National Guard unit.
- By Ed Darack
- Photographs by Ed Darack
- Air & Space magazine, September 2011
(Page 3 of 4)
MEMORIES OF 9/11
We took off on 9/11 with training rounds only. My game plan was to try and knock off the tail of the aircraft with my airplane if we were called to intercept another airliner; nobody knew if there were going to be more attacks, or where they’d be. Maybe I could survive an ejection after ramming my aircraft into the tail section of the plane. We didn’t know what was going on, or how widespread it was. Back then, we weren’t a homeland defense unit. We trained to go places like the Middle East. I was thinking, “Is someone going to give me clearance to take this airplane out?” And then “How am I going to do that?” And then “Who is on that airplane? Americans.” This was right as it happened—the [twin towers] had just fallen.
—Colonel Jim Fogle, 140th Operations Group Manager
HAIL TO THE CHIEFS
Some of our crew chiefs have been working on the same jet since they arrived at Buckley Air Force Base in 1992. They know that jet better than the folks at Lockheed Martin.
—Major TenEyck LaTourrette, Assistant Weapons Officer
NOT YOUR DADDY’S AIR GUARD
The requirement for the Air Guard used to be one weekend a month, but that has changed. As an experienced pilot, I’m required to fly a minimum of six sorties a month. We are scheduled for eight sorties a month on average, to account for maintenance or weather cancellations. We have a two-day drill weekend every month, and then add in alert shifts and other training requirements and you have turned a one-weekend-a-month job into a 10- to 12-days-a-month commitment. In the Guard, it is the families that have felt the changes the most since 9/11.
The biggest misconception is what we do in our job. A normal sortie lasts a little over an hour, but prior to that we put in an average of two to 10 hours mission-planning that sortie. While we’re flying, the aircraft records what we’re seeing through the head-up display and the radar tapes. After we fly home, we debrief the mission. Everyone flying in the mission gathers and we all look at each other’s tapes from the flight. The debrief takes anywhere from two to 10 hours. Most folks think that we go out and joyride for an hour. In reality there are about 20 hours of additional work that goes into that one-hour sortie.
One of the misconceptions of “alert” is that we just sit there and wait. Our top priority while we’re on alert is making sure that we’re ready to go and the aircraft are ready to go when that klaxon goes off. In order for this to happen, the jets have to be run, maintained, loaded, swapped, and prepped at regular intervals so that they can be ready to go on alert. Our maintainers do a great job of keeping our 25-year-old jets in tip-top shape, but every day that we don’t fly, we have requirements to go out and do checks and prep work on the airplanes ourselves to make sure they’re ready to go when we’re scrambled.
—Major TenEyck LaTourrette
LOCKED AND LOADED
When the horn goes off, we treat it as a real-world situation, even if it’s practice.
Weapons are inventoried daily, even if they don’t move—even the inert ones used for training. Everything has to be accounted for, down to the last round of 20-mm bullets. If there is one missing round, we search every aircraft.
—Master Sergeant Mark Bond, Crew Chief
After 9/11, I was essentially working two full-time jobs, one at United Airlines and one at the Guard. When I was furloughed a year later by United, that meant I had only one job, and my family would again know what I looked like.