100th MXG maintenance operations superintendent shares memories of Sept. 11

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of three articles remembering Sept. 11, where Royal Air Force Mildenhall members share their personal experience of what happened that fateful day, and how it affected their life’s journey and the military they once knew.

“The first plane was an accident. The second one was an attack, and the third was a declaration of war.”

   -- Former President George W. Bush, on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks

“Because Khobar Towers, Saudi Arabia, had been hit back in 1996, and the USS Cole had been bombed in 2000, we knew the threat for terrorist attacks was high. But this was different; on Sept. 11, the terrorists brought the fight to us and I just knew that from then on, it would definitely be a different Air Force,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jessica Mueller, 100th Maintenance Group Maintenance Operations superintendent.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, when terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners. Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon and the fourth crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Some Airmen in today’s Air Force weren’t even born at the time. Others were already serving their country while many joined the military because of that day. The world suddenly and horrifically changed Sept. 11, 2001, igniting the Global War on Terrorism.

Mueller, then Senior Airman Jessica Sherman, was a B-1 Lancer aircraft maintenance analyst stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. She had just got arrived at work and flipped on the radio.

“I remember one of our NCOs came running into the office, shouting ‘Holy Cow! Did you hear what happened? We just got attacked!’ We immediately turned the radio on and heard the World Trade Center had been hit – from that point everything just spun,” she said. “We worked in a small building, and everyone ran into the conference room where the only TV was. We all sat around the table just watching, and that’s when we saw the second tower get hit.”

As she watched events unfold, Mueller recalled seeing the news that the Pentagon had been hit and another plane had been hijacked.

“Even though we didn’t see the first plane hit, sitting in the conference room and watching the second tower get hit with the plane loaded with people, then eventually seeing the towers fall – it was awful, because you just knew thousands of lives had just been lost, and even more lives affected,” she said.

“The next thing we knew was that all air traffic was being shut down and the President was being launched in Air Force One. We heard that Ellsworth was one of the potential bases he could land at, but he eventually ended up flying into Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. It was a very tense day,” she said.

Mueller recalled how everyone was immediately put on 12-hour shifts. Back then she lived on base in the dorms, which made it easy for her to get to work quickly. However, for those living off base, the wait time to come on was several hours, even with staggered shifts, as force protection level Delta was implemented and there was a 100% check of all cars.

“From Sept. 12 on, we were just waiting to see what our response would look like and with the B-1s, it was definitely on the table. I remember standing out on the flightline at 9 or 10 o’clock at night when we launched the B-1s for Afghanistan. Although we were angry, we also had such a huge amount of pride in our mission and our aircraft.”

On 9/11, Mueller had been in the Air Force for three years and nine days. She reenlisted Sept. 12, 2001. Although the date was already planned, she said reenlisting the day after the terrorist attacks made it all the more poignant. She said Sept. 11 played a big part in her choice to stay in the military for more than 20 years.

In December 2001, she had a permanent change of station to Korea to be a maintenance analyst for A-10 Warthogs, and said flying after 9/11 was a completely different experience than before. She was later assigned to RAF Mildenhall for the first time from 2004 to 2006.

“Each anniversary of 9/11 – especially with this being the 20th anniversary – always reminds me of when I came in the military. It was a different world and a different Air Force to what I thought I would be a part of. It definitely shaped my career and that of my friends and co-workers I’ve met over the last 20 years,” said Mueller. “A lot of them have been directly impacted and directly in the fight. Everybody’s unique experiences really bring out who we are today – some have been in Iraq and Afghanistan, others – including me – haven’t. But we’ve been there for each other the whole way, because that’s what we do.”