The common thread of 9/11: Defending our homeland

  • Published
  • By Col. Rich Burchfield
  • 21st Space Wing individual mobilization augmentee to the commander
I would wager my boss' paycheck that we can all answer the question "Where were you on 9/11?"

I was leaving home for work making my way across town from Rockrimmon to Headquarters Air Force Space Command here on Peterson. The radio DJs were talking about a plane that had hit one of the World Trade Center Towers. My first thought was that a small aircraft had veered off course into the building. In disbelief they announced another plane crashed into the other tower. Was this a spin-off of Orson Wells' War of the Worlds? It was clear this was real by the time I pulled into the parking lot. You could have heard a pin drop (on the carpet) as I walked to my desk. We all know what happened next and with that came a clear focus on protecting our homeland.

A plethora of inspiring stories immerged in the aftermath of 9/11. I was moved by a local story that involved my then friend Capt. Rob "Rez" Rsyavy. Rez had left active duty in 1998, joined the Air Force Reserves, and was thriving in the local private sector. His life changed when his mom was visiting New York City that week and he knew she was going to tour the World Trade Center complex during her trip.

"It took 24 crazy hours from the time of the attacks for her to finally be able to reach us to let us know she was OK. I knew right away I had to get back into my uniform," he said.

He was quickly mobilized, joined his Schriever AFB unit full time, and was a key member of the initial cadre that stood up the Air Force Reserve's 26th Space Aggressor Squadron. I served with Rez in the 26th SAS, an amazing unit who teamed with the active duty 527th SAS and delivered significant U.S. space control tactics, techniques and procedures to our global warfighters. Col. Rsyavy continued in full time status for the next 13 years. He just retired from the Air Force Sept. 6 after 28 years of faithful service. His legacy of making our homeland safer will continue long after he hangs up his uniform. Thanks for making a difference, pal!

I, too, transitioned into the Reserves back in 2002, which provided me a tremendous opportunity to support Headquarters NORAD and USNORTHCOM in my civilian capacity. The journey has been absolutely incredible as a member of the commands' team that continuously delivered game-changing worldwide maritime vessel tracking capability. We worked closely with warfighters from the Navy, Coast Guard, interagency and international commands to gather and vet their requirements, produce solutions and deliver revolutionary capability. We had fantastic leadership every step of the way that spanned from Coast Guard Capt. Dane Elgi, to Navy Capt. Jim Cox to Dr. Hal Moore, who continues to carry the torch. The daily cultural immersion was amazing and enriched my appreciation of the Air Force's warfighting contributions as well as those of our sister services, interagency and international partners. The most rewarding part of the journey was working with warfighters and delivering capability in defense of the Homeland. Like Rez, I was part of something much bigger and we helped keep bad guys far away from our shore lines.

I believe we all serve to protect and take care of the homeland -- our families, friends and communities. I am reminded of this every time I walk the hallways of HQ NORAD and USNORTHCOM. It is lined with inspiring pictures that range from our nation's founders, to a giant American flag on the side of a Midwest farmer's barn with his family standing next to it, to Hurricane Katrina rescue efforts, Coast Guardsmen on patrol, and the 9/11 tribute on the top floor, just to name a handful. They highlight how far we have come as country, the important partnerships we forged along the way, and the common thread that ties us together -- defending our homeland.