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Ten years after, Barnes protects Northeast

Barnes Air National Guard Base, 104 Fighter Wing - Westfield, Mass -- Where were you when the world stopped turning, that September day? Ten years later, the lyrics from this Alan Jackson song still paint a vivid picture of a clear, calm September morning abruptly changed by the horrific images of two New York towers engulfed in smoke, a corner of the Pentagon destroyed and a Pennsylvania filed filled with smoldering aircraft wreckage.

All told nearly 3,000 American's lost their lives on that fateful day. So many lives were permanently changed, either through injury, loss, or simply by living through the moment as a witness, or responder.

The 104th Fighter Wing has a distinct tie to that day in history, both through its current mission of homeland defense and through its members supporting various contingency operations overseas.

Each member can tell their story of how that day affected them. Some begin with "Following the attacks, we mobilized and deployed overseas with the A-10..." Other stories reflect on the proceeding deployments nearly 10 years after the events, "I just returned from my third deployment since 9/11..." There are also many members who have joined the Air Guard since the attacks, at last count, more than 350 airmen volunteered to serve after 9/11. There is no question the unit is tied to the attacks of Sept 11th; in fact, one 104th pilot was scrambled to respond.

On Sept. 11, 2001, then Maj. Dan Nash was a stationed at Otis Air National Guard Base on alert, when he was notified by the Otis tower there was a suspected hijacking of American Flight 11. "We got the call from the tower that there was a suspected hijacking," said Lt. Col. Nash, Chief 104th FW Stan/Eval. "Duff (Lt. Col. Timothy Duffy, the other alert pilot) and I began to get our gear together, awaiting official notification from NEADS."

Lt. Col. Duffy had responded to a Lufthansa airliner hijacking in 1992 and understood the importance of the alert aircraft. Within minutes, Nash and Duffy received the 'Battle Station' order and readied their F-15 fighters. Quickly thereafter they were scrambled to a heading that took them toward New York City.

Shortly after take-off Nash said the smoke was visible. "We knew something was wrong, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the smoke was visible. We focused on getting to New York as quickly as possible." The 2 fighters flew at mach 1.2 toward the towers as they continued to coordinate with the Eastern Air Defense Sector.

Duffy recalled the moment they saw the smoke over New York. "I said to Nasty 'Tell me that's a cloud,' and he came back, "no that's smoke'"

As the jets we were approximately 70 miles from the city, they learned the second aircraft impacted the tower. "My initial question was," Nash reflected. "What happened to American 11? At that point, I knew it was a terrorist attack, and maybe the start of World War 3."

The fighters were tasked to fly over Manhattan and clear the airspace from any additional threats. The Aircraft stayed on station for more than 4 hours and escorted close to 70 aircraft out of the airspace.

"We had a job to do, and remained focused on that mission," said Nash. "We kept one aircraft in the airspace as the other refueled, constantly escorting small aircraft and helicopters away from Manhattan."

It was only after the two landed that they learned of the events that had transpired. "We did not have CNN in the cockpits, and the information we received was limited to the mission we were performing," explained Nash.

In reflection Lt. Col. Nash and now Col. Duffy agree that the events of 9/11 could not have been avoided through their actions. The dynamic decision matrix and protocols that exist today to defend against civil aviation threats did not exist in 2001.

"It didn't matter if we had gotten there 15 or 20 minutes earlier, it wouldn't have mattered, just the way the scenario was playing out. We wouldn't have been cleared to shoot."
That day began like any other September day, but it ended as a day that will live forever in the hearts and minds of every American.

Much has changed in 10 years, to include the lives of so many. What has not changed is the importance of homeland defense; it is just as important today as it was 10 years ago, and the men and women of the Air National Guard are dedicated to ensuring that mission does not fail.