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What's your 9/11 story? Senior Airman Jose Roman Jr.

Senior Airman Jose Roman, 162nd Fighter Wing, Tucson, Ariz.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jordan Jones)

Senior Airman Jose Roman, 162nd Fighter Wing, Tucson, Ariz.(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jordan Jones)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- By September, 2001, high school was a year and a half in my rear view and I was going to school full time at the University of Arizona. I needed a little extra cash, so I took a job working in the receiving docks at Macy's. I had only been working there a few months and I was scheduled to go to San Francisco to attend a training course and seminar.

Sky Harbor [Airport] was bustling. Just like any other day at a major airport, people were double timing to their gates, struggling with keeping young children in line, announcements for departures and arrivals were blaring. My flight had been delayed an hour and a half so I remember being irritated, hungry (college kids can't really afford the crazy airport restaurant prices), and people watching.

A huge family was at the gate waiting for a loved one to deplane. The raucous they made when she came out made it seem like it was a long lost family member or something. I just remember being annoyed with it all. I was hungry, broke, tired, I had a paper due and the overcrowded gate was not helping. When it was finally announced that we would be boarding, all I wanted to do was find my seat, get some free airline food and sleep.

After what seemed like all day waiting to board, we were down the runway and in the air in a hurry. In no time at all we reached cruising altitude and the food service had just begun going down the aisle. And out of nowhere, the pilot made an announcement for the flight attendants to get to their seats and buckle up and for all passengers to remain seated.

I remember the tone he used - it had a "don't mess with me" and "do as I say" tone that anyone with a father would recognize. As soon as the lead flight attendant picked up her phone and said a few words into it, the plane felt as if it was dropping out of the sky. Once we stopped descending, the pilot announced we'd be returning to Phoenix and all passengers were to remain seated until we had landed and had come to a complete stop. Everyone was wondering what could be going on. We circled Phoenix for about 45 minutes and when we landed, it took another hour to reach the gate. But once we did and were out of the plane and walking out onto the gate, our lives had changed along with the rest of America.

The normal over stimulating hustle and bustle of one of America's busiest airports was gone. Earlier that morning Sky Harbor was alive with activity. Now, it was dead quiet and looked deserted. SWAT members (or personnel dressed up in armor) along with K9 units and other armed officials were guiding us toward the baggage claim. And there was a crowd of what seemed like thousands.

Quietly, everyone either sat on the ground or stood against a wall as they watched TV screens mounted all over the area. Together we all watched the first tower fall...then the second. As time passed, I didn't need anyone to tell me what was going on; I was able to piece everything together on my own. Immediately, the annoying feeling I felt earlier that day toward people for simply going about their day as best they could vanished, and I never felt the same before or since then. We were all in the same boat.

The news kept reporting rumors all day long as well, adding to anxiety and feeling that it wasn't ever going to end. One plane crash, then another and another and another. Threats to the Statue of Liberty, to the San Francisco bridge, the President was in an undisclosed location and no one knew where the Vice President was. Threats to the Sears Tower and a commotion at Los Angeles International Airport caused people to panic in the baggage claim area. I guess some were headed to Disneyland, which had also received threats, according to the news.

After dogs sniffed our bags as we were each screened one-by-one, we were left to fend for ourselves and find our own way home or to our destinations. By that time, most of America had been sent home from work. Which meant renting a car, hailing a cab, catching a shuttle or even getting a Greyhound ticket was out the window. I ended up waiting all day outside of baggage claim for my parents to drive up from Tucson to pick me up. On the way home, it didn't matter how tired I was. I was glued to news radio. My parents hung on to my every word as I shared my experience with them and I never in my life felt a stronger sense of duty.

I had to do something. I had to do my part. But what? All anyone could do (I hadn't enlisted yet) was watch everything unfold. As time went on and the picture became clearer as to who was responsible and what America's response would be, I saw some of my childhood friends choose their preferred branch of service and answer the call. It wasn't long before I was raising my hand and repeating, "I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

Editor's note:

Ten years after Sept. 11, 2001, 162nd Fighter Wing members recall where they were that fateful day, and reaffirm their commitment to serve in the Arizona Air National Guard. Do you have a story to share? If so, email it to 162fw.pa.omb@ang.af.mil for posting here on the wing's official website.