| Witnessing, now remembering the 9-11 attacks
Five years after witnessing the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a C-130 flight crew from the Minnesota Air National Guard's 133rd Airlift Wing remembers the day like it was yesterday.
Taking off from Andrews Air Force Base, the crew enjoyed the beautiful weather and admired the sun shining off the Potomac River. It was Lt. Col.
Steve O'Brien, the aircraft commander, who spotted an airplane at his 10 o'clock position. The aircraft was American Airlines Flight 77 that hijackers crashed into the Pentagon.
"When I first saw the aircraft it was moving fast and that's when air traffic control called and asked, 'Do you see an airplane, can you tell me what kind it is,' and then asked for us to follow it," said O'Brien. "Never in 20 years of flying was I asked to follow a commercial airliner."
A few minutes later, O'Brien and his crew witnessed the nation under attack without realizing it. "We saw a fireball on the ground from jet fuel exploding and then saw the silhouette of the Pentagon through the haze of smoke," said O'Brien.
After air traffic control received the report from O'Brien, the flight crew was advised to continue their original mission and return home to Minnesota.
The F-16 fighter jets were immediately mobilized to patrol and secure the area.
Starting the flight home, the crew tuned in a newscast using an old-style navigation radio. Although they were expecting to hear about an airplane crashing into the Pentagon, the first thing the crew heard was that a second airplane hit the World Trade Center. New York City was reported to be up in smoke. And then reality struck; the nation was under an organized terrorist attack.
Minutes later while the crew was flying over Pennsylvania air traffic control made contact with O'Brien and asked if they could spot another aircraft, Flight 93. After glancing in all directions outside the windows, smoke was detected barreling from an open field at the left hand side of the airplane.
"I thought the smoke was from a farmer burning, or a junk yard," said O'Brien. "I was trying to be optimistic - the last thing anybody wants is to witness two commercial airliners crashing in the same day."
O'Brien reported the position of the smoke to the air traffic controllers and then was directed to land at the nearest airport, Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio. When the crew landed they witnessed another rarity; many large aircraft crammed into one small airport. All airplanes were grounded at airports across the nation.
After landing, the aircrew participated in a debrief with the FBI and intelligence officers, explaining what they witnessed. Once released for the evening, O'Brien checked into his room, turned on the television and watched a report on Flight 93 crashing in a field in Shanksville, Pa.
"The news report confirmed what I saw, I knew it was an airplane crash," said O'Brien. "After our initial crew rest, we were put on alert to assist the Air Reserve for a few days before returning to Minnesota."
Many sleepless nights followed for the crew. O'Brien explained that after a few weeks he started to wake up in the middle of the night in a complete conscious state of mind. When the pattern continued for him and other crew members, O'Brien gathered the group to meet with a flight doctor to discuss how the mind deals with post-trauma. In the meeting the flight doctor explained how sleeping patterns would restore, and they did.
But memories still come back like the experience was yesterday.
Master Sgt. Jeffrey Rosenthal, Flight Engineer, explained that on a daily basis he is reminded about his 9/11 experience by reading the newspapers, watching the television and reminiscing about a recent deployment to the Middle East.
"Still today we see first hand the results of terrorism in the world," said Rosenthal. "Because I witnessed it first hand, I have a deeper appreciation for what we are doing and I know why America is fighting."
O'Brien and Rosenthal deployed multiple times since 9/11 to support Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom and are gearing up for another tour in early 2007.
Five years after Sept. 11, 2001, Rosenthal remembers the day clearly. "I think I can speak for the crew and what we remember is not a memory, but a wish that it never happened...as time goes on, it seems like a memory that we all could have down without."
By 1st Lt. Sheree Savage
Willmar National Guard Unit Set To Deploy
Posted: 2015-10-05 11:04 AM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 5, 2015
More than 150 Soldiers from the Minnesota Army National Guard's Willmar-based 682nd Engineer Battalion will deploy for an eleven-month mobilization in support of Operation Spartan Shield.
"The deploying Soldiers of the 682nd Engineer Battalion are eager to begin the deployment to Kuwait. This will be the first deployment for two-thirds of the unit, they are ready to create their own deployment experience," said Lt. Col. Keith Ferdon, battalion commander.
"Our battalion will be part of Task Force Wild in Kuwait. As a Minnesota hockey fan that is pretty cool. Our battalion has the mission of managing engineer sustainment operations throughout the Middle East, meaning we manage road and building infrastructure maintenance for coalition forces," said Ferdon.
Minnesota combat medic training center named for famous WWII nurse
Posted: 2015-10-05 09:26 AM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - The Minnesota National Guard on Sunday dedicated its new combat medical training center in honor of Brainerd-native and famous WWII nurse Hortense McKay. She is the first female soldier to have a building named for her at Camp Ripley.
The Medical Simulation Training Center, which opened in May of 2014, specializes in training soldiers how to treat wartime wounded. It caters both to soldiers whose main role is being a combat medic (called "68Ws" in Army parlance) and to regular frontline soldiers looking to learn rudimentary lifesaving skills. Eventually, staff hope to train 2,500 people a year in the art of repairing bodies broken by combat.
Like the rest of Camp Ripley, the MSTC puts soldiers through the most stressful testing simulation possible. Strobe lights and loudspeakers recreate the distracting stimuli of combat, and the mannequins soldiers operate on display gruesome wounds that spew blood.
Last 133rd Airlift Wing Vietnam-Era Veteran Retires
Posted: 2015-09-30 01:56 PM
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Master Sgt. Michael Stephen Phillips, the last Vietnam-era veteran to actively serve in the 133rd Airlift Wing, was honored for his 35 years of service at a retirement ceremony at the 133rd's dining facility, Aug. 23, 2015.
An 18-year-old Phillips first joined the active-duty Air Force on Sep. 18, 1973, as a security police specialist and was stationed at the 148th Fighter Wing (when it was still an active duty base) in Duluth. Following a seven-year break in service after his initial four-year enlistment ended, Phillips' wife saw an ad on television for a special program in the National Guard, prompting his return to service.
"Back then they had what was called the Try-1 program for prior active duty members to join the Guard. It allowed you to sign up for a year and see if you liked it," said Phillips. "If it didn't work out, you could get out, and if it did ... well, I ended up staying for another 31 years!"
Camp Ripley RTS-M offers technical, hands-on training for Soldiers
Posted: 2015-09-28 03:07 PM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - Each year hundreds of Soldiers from across the country travel to Camp Ripley Training Center to attend one of 31 courses offered by the 175th Regional Training Institute.
"The courses offered here on Camp Ripley qualify Soldiers as infantrymen, cavalry scouts, health care specialists, as well as wheeled vehicle mechanics and tracked vehicle repair technicians," said a spokesman for the Camp Ripley Visitors Bureau.
The Camp Ripley-based 175th Regiment Regional Training Institute, RTI, provides combat arms, Military Occupational Specialty and leadership training to prepare Soldiers and units for deployment at maximum combat readiness levels. One such training program is the Regional Training Site - Maintenance or RTS-M.