JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii –
Pacific Air Forces hosted a 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony to observe the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon to remember the victims, and recognize and honor the service of service members and their families.
The day, September 11, 2021, commemorates 20 years since the attacks in New York, New York, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., in 2001. The attacks were directed not just at American people and institutions, but at the fabric of the Nation’s guiding ideals of freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“I didn’t want to have a day where we passed over 9/11 like it was just some other day, and not recognize the sacrifices that many of our teammates have made” said Gen. Ken Wilsbach, PACAF commander. “Some of them made the ultimate sacrifice with family members that still suffer because of what happened on that day.”
Airmen throughout Pacific Air Forces shared their experiences as they paused to remember those lost 20 years ago, as well as those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the last 20 years of combat operations.
One Airman was 38-years-old and working as a pastor in a small church outside of Montgomery, Alabama, near Maxwell Air Force Base when the attacks transpired.
"About half of my congregation was military," said U.S. Air Force Col. David Dersch, Individual Mobilization Augmentee to the PACAF command chaplain. "The base shut down, I was not able to visit them at work, and I had no access."
Dersch felt motivated to give back to his country, despite his age and not having access to communicate with the Airmen who attended his church. He was adamant to find a way to serve his country.
"I saw the character of the men and women who were serving," Dersch said. "I felt like that inspired me to raise my hand and join the military then so that I could support them in their fight against terror."
Another PACAF Airman enlisted after 9/11 to protect the same freedoms that enabled him to free himself from a war-stricken country as a refugee.
"I came to the United States when I was 13, from El Salvador, a country torn by war for many years. So, I always wanted to give back," said U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Ricardo Cabezas, A6 Directorate of Air and Cyberspace Operations senior enlisted leader. "September 11th reinforced my want to defend this country and at the same time provide for my family."
Cabezas worked to join the Air Force as the attacks were being reported live by news reporters on television. He was actively pursuing basic training.
"I saw what was going on, and I had my recruiter on the line like, 'Hey, if you need me to go now I'm ready to go," Cabezas said. "But all the airports were closed because of the attacks, so they pushed us out a week."
That moment 20 years ago helped to cement Cabezas' purpose in the military.
"It defined my career," Cabezas said. "Between training and assignments, everything that I took out of the military was always to defend the mainland."
While Dersch and Cabezas shared their desire to respond to a calling derived from then-current events, the next generation of Airmen were inspired to serve proudly decades after the attacks.
"It is vital that we remember and honor the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our nation in the war against terror," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zoe Borja, 8th Intelligence Squadron NCO in charge of operations analysis. "Their fight was not in vain. Let the courage and bravery of these Americans continue to inspire us each day."
"Although I was unable to grasp the initial shock and fear of the moment, the effects of that horrific day gradually became more impactful as my understanding grew," said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Summer Mitchell, 8th IS imagery analyst.
The impact of the events that occurred on September 11th is felt by people across the globe. The attacks were not only focused on infrastructure and casualties, but also the principles of freedom and the pursuit of happiness, which service members have fought for throughout U.S. history, Wilsbach added.
“Many of them are civilians, who will never have a chance to see their children grow up to be with their moms and dads, or their brothers and sisters in old age — so we need to remember that,” Wilsbach said. “Just take a moment to pause and appreciate their sacrifice.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the names of the 11 service members from the Pacific Air Forces who died in support of the Global War on Terror were read. The attendees were given a moment of silence to remember all of the people who gave the ultimate sacrifice, to include military members, first responders and civilians.