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21st anniversary of 9/11: Team Mildenhall civilian shares memories of Sept. 11

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

“I had just got off a 24-hour shift at RAF Mildenhall and heading over to Cambridge for an appointment, when I heard a newsflash on the radio that a plane had gone into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

At that moment, nobody was sure if it was a light aircraft or a helicopter, because you do hear of these things happening. As extra information was coming in, they mentioned the type of airliner and I was getting engrossed with listening to the news. I went to my appointment, which was very short, then immediately I got back home I put on the news and saw the list of events slowly unfolding.

I was shocked to see what was happening in New York, and it immediately started phone recalls here to check where people were and make sure everyone was safe and accounted for. At the time, nobody knew exactly what was going on, but it was then thought that it might be some kind of terrorist attack. Nobody was sure if it was confined to America or whether it would start things happening all over the place, as America and the UK have a good relationship, so it wasn’t known if the attackers were going to start on the UK as well.

Then the second plane hit the other tower and the other events started happening. I actually had a family member who was working in the Pentagon at the time, so it was a shock hearing about everything going on. Luckily, they were in another wing of the building and were fine, though they said they felt the building shake, before they realized it had been attacked. We had correspondence family-wise, checking they were okay, and they made sure none of us were flying over to them at the time.

It was just so hard to believe that in this day and age (back in 2001) that sort of stuff was going on, because it was a terrorist attack rather than a war like is currently happening in Ukraine.

At that point I went back into work. Although we were so far away and couldn’t do anything to help out in America, it was better to be at work. It had still already had a major impact as security was tightened and traffic at the gate was building up. That’s why all the extra security measures have been implemented since, with all the new barriers, another internal fence, and high curbing – the major impact wasn’t just felt on our base, but all around the world.

Nowadays, wherever you fly, airport security has greatly increased and at the time I was greatly concerned – when they did start to find out who the terrorists were – if I did go anywhere to check my surroundings, who was in close proximity; it gave me much more general awareness of what I was doing and where I was going.

As a firefighter it was always a career field I was set on that I was doing, and it just brought home that these things do happen around the world. The fire service is like a big family, whether you’re in the UK, US, or wherever in the world you are. I’ve got friends who used to be stationed here that are now in the States and all over the world, and if I need anything I know I can go to or contact their fire station and they’re always there to help – it’s like a big family.

For something like this act of terrorism to happen in this modern world, with no regard for human life, it’s a reminder that people like that are out there, so be wary. The events of 9/11 are something that should be remembered for the people who were just out doing their day-to-day jobs – firefighters, medics, police, to name a few – they made the ultimate sacrifice while just trying to save others.

The military should be proud of what so many people achieved; at the end of the day, they thought of the others before themselves.”

       - Dave Bootman, 100th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department assistant chief of fire prevention