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Aug 27, 2011 12:37 AM by Matt Stafford

AFA instructor shares memories from the Pentagon on 9/11

Air Force Colonel Marty France saw his first images of the 9/11 terrorist attacks like many, on the television screen; but soon the chaos was at his door step -- working at the Joint Chiefs of Staff office in the Pentagon in Washington D.C.

Col. France was in the opposite side of the building from where the jetliner hit the Pentagon. He didn't feel the impact at all; he got the update from TV.

"There had been a crash at the Pentagon and we recognized the photos, or the video, showing the helicopter pad on the west side," says Col. France.

Col. France says it was about 15 minutes before alarms were sounded and they were evacuated. He never thought he would see the Pentagon emptied out like that. A group from his office got away from the building, and that's where images were burned into his memory.

"To look up and see your capitol under attack and armed fighters going overhead was a shocking experience; the sort of thing you never thought you'd see as long as you lived," says Col. France.

It was still hard to imagine as Col. France went back to work the next day.

"It was really surreal to walk into a building that you see smoke still coming out of on the other side; the smoke billowing and most of the emergency vehicles still there," says Col. France. "It made you very, very serious about what you were doing."

Col. France says he and his co-workers spent the next several weeks working long hours on the recovery. He says the attacks were unexpected, but he felt a deep sense of honor from being able to help with the response.

Since 2005 Col. France has been at the Air Force Academy; he's the head of the Astronautics Department. He says that so many cadets have every detail of their lives planned out, but he tries to tell them to expect the unexpected.

"Cadets want to know, 'why are we doing this, and why are we doing that' and 'what's the purpose of this class or this training event or whatever,' and really the purpose is to make them ready for anything," says Col. France. "We're not just here to teach them about engineering and astronautics; we're here to teach them about being professionals, about being leaders of character."

He never thought he would be put in the roles he was and asked to respond in such crucial moments; Col. France wants to be sure his cadets are prepared to respond to anything they're faced with.

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