SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (Sept. 10, 2021) – The United States is just that; it’s united. On July 4, 1776, the original 13 colonies declared themselves independent and thus free from British rule. A few months later, on Sept. 9, 1776, the Continental Congress formally declared the name of our new nation to be the “United States of America.”
In that 225-year span, the “United States of America” has been attacked very few times on its own soil by a foreign adversary. The most notable attack was Pearl Harbor, in which the Japan conducted a surprise airstrike on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. For many years after, the U.S. experienced peace and tranquility on the home front. Unfortunately, this would all change on Sept. 11, 2001.
The United States was attacked by terrorists when several commercial airplanes were hijacked and flown into the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Passengers and the crew aboard United Airlines Flight 93 thwarted an additional attack and lost their lives when the airliner crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Former U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt referred to Pearl Harbor as a “day that will live in infamy.” 9/11, as the date of the terrorist attack is commonly referred, is remembered in largely the same way. Four planes were hijacked, and nearly 3,000 U.S. citizens lost their lives.
However, in true American fashion, the U.S. responded. Air Force Maj. Gen. Corey Martin, currently director of operations for U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), took a moment during the final week of August to reflect on the attack that occurred 20-years ago. He was one of the first pilots to fly into Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in 2001. For him, Sept. 11, 2001, started off as just a regular Tuesday morning. He never expected it to become a day that would change the world. It marked the beginning of the War on Terror and set off a chain of events that led to the U.S. operating in several areas throughout the Middle East for nearly 20 years in an effort to thwart acts of terrorism.
On Sept. 11, 2001, then-Capt. Martin and his wife were on a jog when they heard the devastating news. Mrs. Martin was wearing a Walkman radio that informed her a plane had been flown into one of the World Trade Center buildings.
“Being a pilot, I tried to imagine how that could’ve happened,” said Martin. “I imagined a very low-hanging cloud day, and maybe a private aircraft had veered off course and hit the building, but then she said it happened again.”
That solidified this was no accident. Martin immediately ran home and then reported to his squadron. Martin would soon deploy to Afghanistan.
Martin flew a C-17 aircraft into Afghanistan on the opening night of “Operation Enduring Freedom.” President George W. Bush wanted food airdropped to the people of Afghanistan who had become displaced due to conflicts in the region. The U.S. conducted the food airdrops in conjunction with airstrikes on terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Martin’s initial flight into Afghanistan lasted for a total of 21 hours. At the time, it was the longest C-17 flight in history. Martin remained with the airdrop mission for an additional six weeks.
“I remember a unifying effect that the events of September 11, 2001, had on our country,” said Martin. “I think it also served as a reminder that actors far from our shores can have a direct impact on what happens in America. It can be a reminder to Americans, and also our adversaries, how quickly America as a country will rally against an external threat and against some of the values that are foundational to our country.”
Twenty years later, Martin now has a better understanding of how USTRANSCOM enabled the initial flight operations over Afghanistan.
“What I didn't know, when I was flying that C-17 into Afghanistan on the opening night of OEF, was that it was under the command, ultimately, of United States Transportation Command,” said Martin. “Now in the position I am, I can see how…our response to September 11…all fell under Transportation Command.”
Twenty years after his first combat mission over Afghanistan, Martin played an essential part in the military relocating troops and equipment from Afghanistan.
“I think about today, and the operations we're seeing now in August 2021, where we're into the last week of our time in Afghanistan and that enormous lift of non-combatant evacuees out of Afghanistan. Again, would not be possible without the men and women of Transportation Command,” said Martin.
Martin concluded by saying he is, “proud to be part of an organization that plays such an integral role in what our nation needs, when the nation calls.”