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Friday, September 10, 2010

I Remember 9/11

By Brandy Vega
VP Media and Communications, OPSGEAR®

My heart sank as my eyes were glued to the TV and I felt about a million miles away from home and very helpless. September 11th, 2001 started out as a pretty normal Tuesday. I was a 46R or broadcast journalist and public affairs specialist deployed to Kosovo stationed at Camp Bondsteel. I was the broadcast NCOIC. I was in an edit bay putting together a story for Armed Forces Network (AFN) when one of my soldiers came in and said, "Sgt. Gilliam a plane just crashed into one of the twin towers in New York." He didn't seem too alarmed. I questioned him asking whether it was a small or large plane and the extent of damage. At that point it seemed like a tragic accident. I was on deadline so I went back to work. A few minutes later he returned but this time I could sense some fear. He said, "Sgt. I think you need to come and see this." I ran into the other bay and started watching one of the most horrifying scenes. I quickly called my mom in Utah and told her to turn on the TV. She was shocked and started to cry wondering what would happen to me and our country next. Soon more people were coming into our office gathering around the TV and then the phones began to ring. I watched as the second airplane crashed into the other tower and suddenly I knew our world was changing. I was completely floored at everything that was going on. I was in the Army Reserve and in the civilian sector worked in television. As we were watching national news Tom Brokaw said, "America is now at war." One of my commanders said, "you've got to be kidding me. I can't believe how the media sensationalizes everything!" I wondered if he was witnessing the same thing I was because he didn't seem to get the magnitude of the event unfolding. I said, "Sir, he's not sensationalizing anything! We are at war. America is under attack as we speak and our way of life will never be the same." I completely lost respect for him at that very moment.

Around that time all of the alarms at the base started going out and we were moved to Threat-con Delta. Soon we were in full battle rattle and tanks were securing our gates and several meetings were being held. Everyone was very somber and I think many of us were in shock. Here we are in the Balkans on a "Peace Keeping" mission while our homeland is being attacked by terrorists. We were up late into the night, many of us didn't get any sleep.

Early the next morning I was asked to accompany the Task Force Falcon Commander and some KFOR officers to an emergency meeting at the embassy in Macedonia. About 10 of us boarded a Blackhawk helicopter that had the doors off. We were briefed by the pilot that terrorists had threatened to shoot down all U.S and NATO aircraft. I had been on a lot of missions and flights and that was the first time we warned that we could be shotdown. A few minutes into our flight the pilot informed us that we had just been locked onto by an anti aircraft device and we were going to be diverting. Right then it seemed we nearly dropped out of the sky and began what they call a "map of the earth". We were just a few feet above the trees, flying in a canyon, going left and right then up and down. I didn't feel scared, I was mad. I remember taking a moment looking at everyone in the chopper and then the landscape, it's such a beautiful area. Luckily, we were able to get out of the line of fire. Now the terrorists were trying to kill me! Actually, it was the 2nd time they tried to shoot me down. The first time was flying over Macedonia in a C130. I saw quite a bit of activity gunners were running and next thing I know we are shooting several flashes from the aircraft. That was the beginning of my "peace keeping" mission before my boots ever hit the ground in Kosovo. There were a few other instances where I was on a border patrol with soldiers when guerillas started shooting at us and we had to navigate through land mines.

Over the last 9 years I have seen the impact of that day and know first hand that the world has changed. The way we fight has changed too. Last year Veterans Day and September 11th really hit me hard. I felt a lot of anger and realized how close I came to getting killed. Terrorists don't discriminate, they simply hate everyone who doesn't believe in their cause. Everyday I wake up wondering if today is the day they strike again and what's next. But, every night I go to bed thanking GOD for our freedoms and for the brave men and women who put it all on the line everyday. Terrorism isn't something new. Many of you have been fighting this fight for decades but now it has a face and a name. It's an evil parasite that lurks in every country, major city, small villages and could even been in your neighborhood. We must unite as "infidels" worldwide and stand in solidarity!