Captain Assing: Air Force officer, nurse, rescue worker

  • 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 working on the hospital floor which consists of long-term recovery as well as same-day-surgery patients," said Captain Assing, a member with the 355th Medical Operations Squadron. "One of the patients called me into her room and said, 'look at what they're showing on TV.' That's when I saw the first plane hit the tower. I couldn't figure out what was going on. Then the second plane hit and I remember hearing something about a crash at the Pentagon."

"My name is Captain MarieLouise Assing, I'm a nurse in the Air Force and presently assigned to D-M," Captain Assing said. "At the time of Sept. 11, 2001, I was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland."

Prior to joining the Air Force, Captain Assing's military roots began in the Navy.

"I was Navy enlisted for 12 years," Captain Assing said. "I decided after being on some humanitarian missions with the Navy that nursing was kind of a calling for me. After getting my degree, I joined the Air Force, completed officer candidate school and was stationed at Andrews AFB where I was working at the medical group there."

It was at the medical group on Andrews where she heard of the attacks on the towers and the Pentagon. Shortly after, the medical personnel started working 12-hour shifts with a medical unit at the Pentagon crash site. According to Captain Assing, it became clear that they were there for each other, the families who had lost someone in the Pentagon and the rescue workers who needed someone to talk to.

Along with helping out at the Pentagon, Captain Assing and a few of the other workers started taking trips to New York City to help out at Ground Zero as well.

"There were a few of us working at the Pentagon and we all had the same mindset that we needed to go and do more. That's the spirit of the Air Force, to go and help wherever we can be of use," Captain Assing said. "We said that after we were done at the Pentagon, we would volunteer and go up to New York. We made plans to go up and stay over the weekend and we attached ourselves to a civilian medical group that was already up there."

Captain Assing remembers the first time her group arrived in NYC to help. She remembers starting to hear the noise of the rescue workers as her and her team walked toward the site. She remembers people lining the street, yelling words of encouragement and support at any rescue worker they saw.

"When ever they would see a policeman or fireman, they would yell out 'we love you' or 'we support you' to them," Captain Assing said. "We walked down what was left of a long avenue that leads up to the front of where the towers were. You could hear all the noise from the workers and all the construction."

Soon after the team arrived, the noise ceased and the site fell completely silent.

"Then I saw a flatbed truck," Captain Assing said. "On the back of the truck was a body with a flag laying across it. This is what would happen every time they would find someone."

During her time going to Ground Zero and helping out, she has met many people, including one firefighter who lost someone close to him.

"This one fireman came up to us because he needed a tetanus shot," Captain Assing said. "He had a very blank look on his face, void of any emotion. I tried to talk to him and make small talk, but couldn't get a conversation going at first. At one point he says to me, 'my partner and I were running in and out of the building.' When I asked what happened he said that when they were coming out of the building, someone who had jumped from the top of the building landed on his partner and the person he was carrying."

The people who were at Ground Zero were individuals who just wanted to come help and lend a hand, describes Captain Assing.

"That was the American spirit. When it gets tough, we all stick together to get through the tough times," Captain Assing said. "There was an outpouring of volunteers that were cooking, bringing in food and clothing, and there were doctors who were using their time off to come down and help out. If you look at all the bad that happened, this is one of the good things that came of it."

Even through all the things that Captain Assing saw or heard, she never once wanted to stop. It was never too much for her to handle.

"I didn't like that I had to go back to work," Captain Assing said. "I would rather have just stayed there. I thought that this was more important. This was my calling, this was where people needed me the most. Every time we left to go back to work, we were always ready to come back to help."

And they did, time and time again. Her final trip in January was when Captain Assing was given a special memento she carries with her almost every day.

"In January, when I was at Ground Zero, they were building a platform that family members could use to look at the site," Captain Assing said. "I was on the platform looking at the site and a lady came up to me and asked if I was in the Air Force. At the time I was wearing BDU's and she told me her son is in the Air Force, stationed in Hawaii. She continued to tell me that she has another son who is a firefighter. I asked her where and she answered here, out there (referring to where the towers were). They haven't found him yet."

The woman reached into her pocket and pulls out a 9/11 coin and hands it to Captain Assing.

"She told me, 'this coin doesn't mean anything to me, I don't want to remember that day, so you can have it,'" Captain Assing said.

Captain Assing carries the coin as a reminder to never forget that day and the fellow Americans we lost.

"Whenever I hear people talking about Sept. 11, I pull out the coin and tell them don't ever forget, because it's why we're doing all that we are," Captain Assing said. "It's the reason why we're down range and there is a purpose for it. It's for our freedom and that's what makes us great."