Airman Robertson: From high school student to Air Force warrior

  • 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.)

"I was in Technical Drawing, my first class of the day," said Airman 1st Class Charles Robertson, 355th Logistics Readiness Squadron, vehicle maintenance apprentice. "We weren't talking about much and I wasn't really paying attention. I was looking outside and against the clear blue sky was a long trail of black smoke. My teacher caught me not paying attention and gave me a hard time. When I directed his attention to the smoke, he told me it's probably just a heating, ventilation and air conditioning fire or something like that. Maybe four or five minutes later, the second plane hit. I saw a huge fireball, followed shortly by the noise of the explosion."

"My name is Airman Robertson from Brooklyn, New York. I was 13 and had just started my freshman year of high school. I went to Brooklyn Technical High School and we had about 5,000 students at the time. The high school was nine stories tall and when it all went down, my class had a clear view because we were on the seventh or eighth floor."

When the attacks happened, no one in the class had any idea of what caused the explosions. Ideas were being tossed around that it was some kind of malfunction. A plot to attack the U.S. was the last thing Airman Robertson thought the explosion was.

"We were caught up in the spectacle; it was very surreal," Airman Robertson said. "A few periods later, we actually found out it was a terrorist attack, which was the last thing I expected. After a while, we couldn't go to classes because they wanted to lock down the school. They kept us at the school until our parents could come and get us. A lot of the students were going crazy because they had parents or knew someone who worked at the towers."

Airman Robertson's mom eventually picked him and his sister up from school. She didn't drive and because public transportation was shut down from the attacks, she had to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to the school.

In the days that followed, NYC began to get back to business as usual. People went back to their everyday routine.

"Everybody was more close-nit," Airman Robertson said. "Patriotism flared up, you would see an American flag on every street corner, every house and every car. It was great to see. At one point, my family took a visit to Ground Zero and we saw the wall where people had pictures posted on it. It had thousands, you couldn't even count them all. Seeing that really sinks in just how many people it affected and how real it was."

As a kid growing up, Airman Robertson always wanted to join the military. He planned on enlisting in the Marines, but being his mother's only son and not wanting to put her through that hardship, he decided against it. After high school, Airman Robertson went to college, but didn't find it satisfying.

The events of 9/11 solidified the feeling of wanting to serve. Like him, many people he knew right out of high school, shared the same desire. Many joined the Marines, hungry for revenge. He wanted to join them, but decided to wait and think it over. Ultimately, he decided to take the military plunge.

"I was working as a cashier in a dead-end job," Airman Robertson said. "I didn't feel like what I was doing was really worth the time and effort. I wanted to do something that actually made a difference. I talked to a Marine's recruiter and a few Air Force recruiters. It was the Air Force that reeled me in. I'm glad I finally signed up. I knew it would be a life-changing decision, but it would be for the best."

Airman Robertson enlisted after 9/11, when America was already at war. He decided to serve knowing there was the chance of him being deployed to a hostile environment and putting himself in harm's way.

"It was a sense of duty," Airman Robertson said. "I wanted to make a difference. I definitely don't want to see something like that happen again. If I can contribute to preventing that, it's worth the sacrifice and lifestyle change."

After basic training and tech school, Airman Robertson was stationed at D-M. He arrived on Sept. 11, 2010, nine years after personally seeing the attacks on the Twin Towers as a 13-year-old high school student.

"I flew in my uniform and a lot of people were showing their gratitude," Airman Robertson said. "It was pretty much like any other day, except people were extra cognizant of the sacrifices military members make on a daily basis. It was very humbling but I felt like I had to live up to it because I haven't deployed yet, I haven't made a direct contribution yet."

Over the past 10 years, the events of Sept. 11 have shaped Airman Robertson into the person he is today.

"I'm more aware of how fragile life is and how fast things can change," Airman Robertson said. "It puts things in perspective. It helped me mature faster than I would have otherwise. You're not always in control of your fate and I try to make the most of every day because you never know what may happen."

In the end, Airman Robertson is proud of his decision to join the Air Force and serve.

"I know not everyone supports the war, but I feel it's necessary," Airman Robertson said. "I'm glad to do my part. I'm proud I had the courage to join when I knew I could be put in harm's way. It's very satisfying."