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Remembering 9/11: Master Sgt. Mann

An Airman standing in front of an American Flag.

“I was in the military for roughly 9 months and scheduled to go on my first TDY to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. I woke up that morning at 0300… and was excited to go on an adventure with 12 other Security Forces members. We checked into our flight and boarded the plane. The plane closed its doors, started to taxi and waited at the end of the runway for clearance to take off. We taxied back to the airport, deplaned and entered a completely silent airport. You could have heard a pin drop and all passengers were glued to the mounted tube TVs. They all showed the same image. It was a skyscraper that was burning and still not knowing what had happened, I was confused and actually a little afraid. Moments later a plane struck the second adjoining tower and disappeared in an explosion and all you could hear was people gasping deeply. What we did not know, was that this day would change not only our life but the lives of many Americans and the way the U.S. military would operate for years to come,” recounted U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Edward Mann IV, 18th Security Forces Squadron NCOIC of Installation Security, at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Sept. 10, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Micaiah Anthony)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan --

I was in the military for roughly 9 months and scheduled to go on my first TDY to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. I woke up that morning at 0300 in my dormitory at Beale AFB, Calif., and was excited to go on an adventure with 12 other security forces members.  

We met up at the squadron, packed our gear onto a bus, checked out our M-16 rifles and other weapons like the M-60 machinegun and started our trip to the airport in Sacramento.

What we did not know, was that day would change not only our life but the lives of many Americans and the way the U.S. military would operate for years to come.

We checked into our flight and boarded the plane. Many of us stayed up through the night, planning to sleep during our scheduled flight across the U.S. into Europe and on to Saudi Arabia. The plane closed its doors, started to taxi and waited at the end of the runway for clearance to take off.

The engines revved up and then almost turned off again. This was followed by a seemingly shaken-up voice. The pilot notified us on the intercom that due to certain circumstances, all air traffic in the U.S. had been grounded.

We taxied back to the airport, deplaned and entered a completely silent airport. You could have heard a pin drop and all the passengers were glued to the mounted tube TVs.

They all showed the same image. It was a skyscraper that was burning and still not knowing what had happened, I was confused and actually a little afraid. Moments later a plane struck the second adjoining tower and disappeared in an explosion and all you could hear was people gasping deeply. This still gives me the chills to this day.

I asked my staff sergeant team leader what was going to happen and he responded, “We’re going to war!” It was at this time I knew the fun and games were over and uncertainty came over me and what my future looked like.

We grabbed our gear and rifles and sat outside of the terminal waiting for the bus to pick us back up. We were all speechless and hardly talked to each other.  We returned to Beale AFB, which had seemingly transformed into a different base.

We used to wave people on using a 2220 sticker affixed to the vehicle without checking or scanning credentials.  When we got back, the installation gate had sandbags on the roof with an Airman manning an M-60 and the wait times to enter the base took as long as 5 hours. Every vehicle was being searched and taken apart not knowing what to expect. Nobody was smiling and the Force Protection Condition Delta was in effect.  

We finally arrived back at our squadron and were exhausted. We were briefed on what transpired and immediately armed up to augment extra security posts, such as Humvee’s and other vehicles we had never used.  Security Forces were armed and patrolled all over base and there was no question in any Airman’s conviction or purpose.

The team I was assigned to disbanded and worked 17 days of Delta posting around the clock, sleeping in vehicles, on the floor or other areas that allowed a quick power nap. I remember coming back to my dorm room to take a shower and had more than 50 messages on my answering machine.

The messages were from family and friends who were concerned and hoped I was still alive begging for a callback.

After those 17 days, we were able to get airborne and make it to PSAB. Once we made it, we were immediately put to work to allow the limited manning already deployed, to take some rest. We worked another 13 days in Delta. This was what I remember from Sept. 11, 2001, and 20 years later nothing has changed.