Major Hughes: Experiencing change in Air Force, America

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Michael Washburn
  • 355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
(Editor's note: This year will mark the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. These acts brought America to a screeching halt; nothing else that day seemed to matter. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on that Tuesday morning, and the destiny of a generation changed forever. This is a 10 part series about those serving in the military and how their stories paint a picture that shaped today's Air Force.)

"On the morning of Sept. 11, my office was planning a visit from a general," said Maj. Christien Hughes, aide-de-camp for the 12th Air Force commander. "We were in a room setting up things with Protocol, when a sergeant came in and said, 'Kamikaze pilots are attacking the World Trade Center.' We brushed him off and said to leave. When he came back a second time and said they attacked the second tower, we thought we should go check it out. The Combined Air Operations Center was only about 30 feet away and when we arrived, the entire CAOC was silent and we watched as the towers fell."

"I was always compelled to join the military," Major Hughes said. "When I was in high school, I knew I was going to college and I wanted to go into the Reserve Officers Training Corps and join the Air Force. It wasn't a conscious decision; there was something inside me that drove me to serve my country."

After being commissioned in December 1999, he came on to active duty in February 2000. His first duty assignment was at Dyess AFB, Texas. One year later, while working in the communication squadron, Major Hughes volunteered for a deployment to Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia. This was based on the suggestion from his flight commander that it would be a great training opportunity for him.

It was on that deployment when the attacks on the World Trade Center happened. Although a great tragedy had befallen the U.S., there was still a job to do.

"The next day, the visit from the general had been wiped off the table and we began war planning," Major Hughes said. "For the next month, we worked about 15 hours a day just planning. I didn't know what we were going to hit, but I knew we were going to hit it hard."

Initially after the attacks, Major Hughes didn't let his emotions get to him. Instead, he became more focused on the mission at hand.

"There was no room for anger because anger is a display of emotion that can get you acting irrationally," Major Hughes said. "At that time, we had planning to do. Not being in the U.S., I felt removed from what was going on. I felt sorry for the people who lost their lives and the families. All I knew was I had work to do and a lot of lives depended on the job I did."

When Major Hughes' deployment was finished, he was able to go back home and see first-hand the after effects of 9/11.

"I came home Oct. 18, 2001," Major Hughes said. "I was excited to come home, but at the same time I didn't know what I was returning to. The first thing I noticed was security at the airport. Another thing was the patriotism. Everyone had flags and ribbons, it seemed like the whole country was unified. Everyone appreciated veterans more and people were saying thank you more often. Everything was a lot different."

During his time in the Air Force, Major Hughes has seen the way the Air Force changed because of the attacks.

"Before Sept. 11, a deployment to Operation Southern Watch or Operation Northern Watch was just like 'I'm going to go play in the sandbox,'" Major Hughes said. "The mission was real, but outside of that back home, people lived normal lives. After the attacks, the mission became a global war. Everybody was engaged and everything we did and do now supports it."

Being able to deploy as a young lieutenant and seeing how the attacks on the World Trade Center changed the U.S. and the military, has made Major Hughes a better Airman.

"With any deployed experience at any point, a person's learning curve is faster and they'll learn at a faster rate," Major Hughes said. "Being able to see the world change on my deployment changed me. There's more of a sense of purpose now. When I have to work late, there's no whining because I know that somewhere, someone is in a foxhole or in an uncomfortable position and I'm here safe and sound. I've tried to do everything since then with the mentality that I'm supporting a warfighter somewhere."