September 11, 2023

9/11 Message from Lieutenant General Richard Newton III, USAF

PBA 9/11 Message from Lieutenant General Richard Newton III

PBA News

Today we mark the 22nd anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In my view, perhaps the most painful and dreadful national crisis in our lifetime. I’ll never forget that day – ever.

I was a young Colonel at the time serving as the base commander of Minot Air Force Base (AFB) in North Dakota, and commander of the 5th Bomb Wing with operational control of dozens of B-52 strategic bombers. It was a crisp, clear, absolutely gorgeous, late summer morning. We were completing a very successful week-long major worldwide exercise. My B-52s were loaded with weapons and the aircrews had just completed the start engines sequence as the culminating point of the exercise kicked off. I was on the flight line observing the entire operation as any proud commander would. Then all hell broke loose.

My command post unexpectedly contacted me with a cryptic “real world” message to return immediately to the command and control center. I arrived a few short minutes later and was told at 8:46 a.m. that American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed into the World Trade Center North Tower, and a few minutes later that United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower. Meanwhile, President Bush was evacuating from Sarasota, Fla. on Air Force One and heading to Barksdale AFB in northern Louisiana. The United States was under attack.

I assembled my command team of exceptional senior operational leaders. We had been serving together for over a year at Minot, and had exercised and trained for a number of contingencies, but the morning of 9/11 was not in anyone’s playbook. Then, at 9:42 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 slams into the western side of the Pentagon, and it’s reported there is a hijacked airliner somewhere in the northeast part of the U.S. It turned out to be United Airlines Flight 93 which eventually crashed near Shanksville, PA after the passengers heroically regained control from the terrorists on board. We immediately kicked into even higher gear as we received reports of what is termed “threat streams” in/around the central U.S. region and our location.

Our first concern was the safety and security of the thousands of people assigned to the base, plus a significant number of family members dispersed on and off base. Several hundred were youngsters attending Minot public schools, including our daughters Elizabeth and Addy. As the commander’s spouse and essentially the “First Lady” of the installation, my wife Jody played a significant role to support and keep base spouses and family members informed normally under everyday conditions. 9/11 was also not in her playbook; she instinctively kicked into high gear as well. By early afternoon, she gathered the base senior spouses and worked out a system (back then very few people had cell phones) to keep the base populace effectively informed; that process remained in place for several days. Jody brought comfort and a sense of security to our families during a time of unfathomable crisis.  I am not sure we could have made our way through this ordeal without her strong leadership and calming influence.

Back to the flight line. I ordered our aircrews to shut down engines and turn the bombers over to our extraordinary maintenance personnel, the backbone of any successful air combat unit. They painstakingly downloaded hundreds of weapons and ensured they were secure in our highly guarded weapons storage area. That evening, we continued to assemble in our command post and deliberated with senior operational leaders in my chain command across the country to contemplate what was next. We had our immediate mission at hand, the safety and security of Minot AFB. But we were already preparing to strike back. America did so nearly three weeks later with B-52s and other elements of U.S. military firepower kicking off Operation Enduring Freedom.

Fast forward to today. Since combat operations launched that Sunday afternoon on Oct. 7, 2001, the price of freedom for our nation’s longest war has been tremendously high. 2,448 American men and women in uniform, all volunteers, have died in Afghanistan, plus the 13 military members who were killed at Abbey Gate outside Kabul International Airport as a result of a horrific terrorist attack on Aug. 26, 2021. The service of our Veterans deserve all the support, accolades and applause from this nation. They ran to the sound of guns and bore the brunt of the longest war in American history. Our Gold Star family members left behind deserve our enduring respect and gratitude for their loved ones who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

My prayer is we never forget that freedom isn’t free…


Lieutenant General Richard Newton III, USAF

PBA’s God-Sized Dreams Capital Campaign Committee Member

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