September 11, 2001 marked the beginning of "COMPTUEX" for the crew of the USS Kennedy and the airmen of CVW-8, of which I was a member of VF-143 "Pukin' Dogs". This started just like any other at-sea period I had been on, and I remember that I was not really looking forward to re-visiting St. Maartin and St. Thomas for the 5th or 6th time. I had a newly-wed wife at home in Va. Bch. and this was to be my last work-up of my career, so I was anxious to get it over with.
Everyone knows what happened that morning, so I will not comment on what I was not a part of in NYC, DC, and PA. There are many people who were there who do not deserve what would be my woefully inadequate narration. However, I was on board a US Naval Aircraft Carrier, in full battle dress, answering our call and performing what we had been trained to do.
The Kennedy went to General Quarters while we were still tied to the pier in Mayport, FL. The base cleared the pier of wives, children, and other non-military personnel; all under the 'shadow' of the Kennedy. Looking back, most of them had no idea why we were kicking them off the base and suddenly pointing guns at them....
Most of the squadron personnel flew in the night before, from Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Whidbey Island, WA; however there were almost no squadron aircraft, as they were scheduled for 'CQ's' later that day. The only thing we had a contingent of were the EA-6B Prowlers, setting at the Terminal of NAS Mayport - across the port basin. Within 10 minutes, the crew had the Kennedy unlashed, spun, and headed past the Jetties of the St Johns River. Within another 30 minutes we were at Flight Quarters with our two F/A-18 squadrons overhead, fully armed, preparing to qualify for carrier landings.
As cliche' as it sounds, it was a day that started like any other. The night before was spent at the Grill (I cannot REMEMBER the name of it) on the pier, having a beer or 4 with your friends, shooting pool, and generally not looking forward to the next 45 days or so of 13 hrs on-11 hrs off. Just like we had always done before - and never do again.
I remember the next two weeks as a blur. Emails back and forth with my wife.... Non-Stop coverage of "Why"..... Somebody called "Osama"..... Afghanistan? Where is that?
But what I remember the most is how we were all AMERICANS. All of us. Here we sat, steaming off the coast of the Virginia Capes, flying Combat Air Patrols over DC and Norfolk, united against a previously unknown enemy, and wanting to kill them all.
And here we are, Eight Years Later, and it isn't even a 'War on Terror' any longer. We have a sitting President declaring this 'Patriot Day' or some other crap like that, when this should be the 'We Still Remember Day' for all of those who died, needlessly, for a homicidal/suicidal cause of a 'Religion of Peace.'
May God Bless America, Keep Our Fallen, Protect Our Warriors. Grant us the strength to conquer the oppressive, and reap upon our enemies 10 fold what they inflict. Amen.
AT2 Greg R., VF-143, 1999-2002