September 11 Remembered At North East Air Defense At Griffiss Park in Rome
Rome, NY (WIBX) – September 11, 2001 seemed like every other day to those working in the Northeast Air Defense Sector, or NEADS, at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome.
Men and women in uniform looked at the radar screens on their Q-93 surveillance equipment, preparing for the day’s exercises. Among them was a hijacking training mission that was supposed to take place later in the day. But, what happened next changed the organization’s modus operandi forvever.
Colonel Dawne L. Deskins, Vice Commander and Title 32 Commander of the Eastern Air Defense Sector, remembers what happened on that fateful morning.
“The morning was fairly quiet, the exercise had just really started, and we were in a build-up phase of that. Sometime after about 8:30 was when Boston Center came in with a phone call that they wanted some assistance with American Airlines Flight 11.”
American Airlines Flight 11 ended its journey by crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Three other airplanes were hijacked that day, with two reaching their captors’ final destinations; the South Tower of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“It wasn’t until the plane hit the Trade Center that we started getting more of a sense of dread… that this was something much worse.”
The deadly results of 9-11 prompted NEADS, and the United States government, to do more. Improvements were made to the radar equipment in the months after the attacks. The old, monochromatic Q-93 radar systems at Griffiss were upgraded to the NORAD contingency Suite, and later replaced by the color coded, interactive surveillance system, Battle Control Station-Fixed, or BCS-F.
“The Battle Control System-Fixed was our big upgrade. We always are evolving to assess and look at new capabilities that we need, ways to communicate. I would say that that’s always going on within the enterprise.”
But those weren’t the only changes. NEADS consolidated with the Southeast Air Defense System to form an organization protecting more than 1 million square miles of land and 16 major cities east of the Mississippi River, including Boston, New York, Miami and Indianapolis.
“I think, you know, it’s just very different. People who have come to our unit after September 11th don’t realize that it was any other way. There are some of us, like myself, who have been around for a very long time, who remember how it used to be like when it was much quieter and our operations tempo was not as robust as it is today.”
The faster pace of work goes hand-in-hand with an added increase in security operations. Threats of terrorism are now at a premium, forcing EADS to remain on their toes.
But, the September 11 attacks did not just impact the way EADS works. Those on duty that day at the base witnessed something that would change their outlook on life forever. And for servicewomen like Colonel Deskins, the impact was felt much closer to home.
“There are some things that I had put off before that I don’t put off anymore. Family vacations, we try to get one of those in every year. We were going to build a house once my kids both graduated from high school. We actually went ahead and built that within a couple years of September 11.”
Deskins, and everyone else at the base, plan to pay tribute to the 10th anniversary of 9-11. The base’s honor guard will participate in a memorial event in Rome and the unit will be present to show their respect to those who lost their lives. At Griffiss Air Force Base another memorial will silently pay respects.
“Every September 11, we do have a… we’ve had a moment of silence on the operations floor, just to focus us and remind us, because everything that we do today, all the changes that we’ve had, all our procedures are driven by that day.”
To keep those working at the base focused on their mission to protect the nation’s skies from terrorist threats, three cases sit in the lobby of the building. One contains a piece of the Pentagon. The second contains a piece from Shanksville.
The third contains a twisted piece of metal, only a couple of feet long, coming from the World Trade Center wreckage. The small memorial strikes a poignant chord to both employees and visitors alike, serving as a constant reminder of what is perpetually at stake.