Commentary | Sept. 14, 2009

Thoughts on September 11th

By Mr. Matthew Fink 432d Wing Anti-terrorism and Force Protection officer

Eight years ago, the world was a different place. Families would gather around the airport gate to welcome their loved ones home. Celebrities, crime, and the usual politics dominated the media coverage. The words "terrorism," "jihad," "fatwa," and "al-Qaida" were not in anyone's daily vocabulary. Liquids of all sizes were allowed on commercial flights, as were fingernail clippers and lighters. In military and intelligence circles, the idea that a commercial aircraft could be used as a deadly weapon was preposterous.

On Sept. 11th, the world watched in horror as commercial airliners were intentionally crashed into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. Another aircraft crashed in an empty field in Shanksville, Pa. thanks to a few heroes. This horrendous act of aggression claimed nearly 3,000 souls, an act so atrocious it could only be described in one word: terrorism. Yet only a day earlier, such an action seemed nearly impossible, even among seasoned law enforcement professionals.

The events of that fateful day taught us many important lessons. Our enemy doesn't always wear a distinct uniform or abide by the Law of Armed Conflict, the Geneva Conventions, or any form of common or internationally accepted codes of conduct. Our enemy doesn't need billions, trillions, or even hundreds of dollars to inflict a catastrophic amount of damage. Our enemy is very resourceful, driven by ideology and willing and able to adapt. Our enemy could be anywhere; waiting for the resources, or the right moment, to strike.

More than anything, September 11th taught us one of the most important lessons: our enemy can be spotted. Before the 19 hijackers boarded their respective aircraft, they had boarded other aircraft. In some instances, individuals later identified as the 9/11 hijackers had been spotted going through airport security dozens, if not hundreds of times prior to the attacks. They had been practicing, taking notes and paying attention to security procedures. At the time, the hijackers' actions didn't arouse suspicion or raise eyebrows, but today, their actions would clearly stick out as abnormal.

As we all remember and mourn the lives lost on this tragic day: workers, first responders and innocent bystanders; remember that our battle is far from over. No matter how unlikely it may seem, no matter how unusual or unorthodox the tactics might be, there's always a possibility that our enemy will find new and horrible ways to try to bring us to our knees. We can maintain the upper hand and live to fight another day if we remain vigilant by identifying and reporting suspicious or unusual activities at home, while traveling, working, or playing. Situational awareness saves lives. Semper vigilare--always be watchful.