Dover AFB master sergeant recounts 9/11 support

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nicole Leidholm
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- This year marks the 20th anniversary since four aircraft were hijacked and used to kill thousands of Americans.

While the events of 9/11 still resonate with millions of Americans today, for one Dover Air Force Base Airman, that day, and the days that followed, changed his life as a leader and Airman.

“I will never forget how it felt that day; it was frightening,” said Master Sgt. Mark Weber, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System senior enlisted advisor. “Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps.”

Weber, who was a senior airman at Langley Air Force Base, Virgina, assigned as a 1st Aerospace Medical Squadron lab technician, had just finished working a night shift when he was called and told to be on telephone standby.

Weber had only been in the Air Force approximately two and a half years at the time.

“I had no idea what was going on,” said Weber. “I was only told to make sure my mobility bag was ready to go and to turn on the TV.”

Shortly after seeing the second plane hit the towers, there was a base recall. Before heading to base, Weber ran three houses down to see his 2-year-old son, who was with a sitter.

“I was able to say bye to my son before I left, but he had no idea what was going on because he was so young then,” said Weber. “My neighbor was hopping down the driveway trying to get his boots on and he told me, ‘We’re scrambling all the jets.’”

Weber proceeded to Langley AFB, where force protection conditions were extremely elevated.

“All non-essential personnel were being turned away from the gate, such as [those driving] garbage trucks and delivery trucks,” said Weber. “Going through the gate, everyone’s car was searched. All military installations increased security measures, vigilance and awareness.”

Once at the medical group, Weber waited to hear if his name was going to be called to help set up an Expeditionary Support Hospital at what is now Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. Expeditionary Support Hospitals are typically designed to provide definitive, stabilizing care to patients so they can be moved to a permanent facility with more resources. Their initial mission was to help care for an influx of injured patients if hospitals in New York and Washington D.C. were overwhelmed.

“Being at the end of the alphabet, they were calling names off and I kept wondering if I’m going or am I not going,” said Weber. “I was finally called and we were loaded up on blue buses to head to New Jersey.”

As the group left Langley AFB, Weber said the wing commander and his support staff lined up and saluted the buses as they drove away.

“As we were leaving, all I was thinking about was my family,” said Weber. “I was worried that there was going to be more attacks coming soon. You just didn’t know because there hadn’t been an attack like this since Pearl Harbor.”

The events of 9/11 provided an opportunity to showcase the medical group’s readiness and ability to leave at a moment’s notice. The entire week afforded Weber the chance to reflect on his service to the nation.

“We were sent up for six days before returning to Langley AFB, leaving the deployable hospital, which was [then] turned into a morgue manned by reservists,” said Weber. “I was very proud that I was a member of the United States Air Force and to be a small part of everyone rallying together to do what was needed to help heal and protect our country.”

Following the attacks, the Joint Personal Effects Depot, located at Dover AFB since June 2011, was established the morning of 9/11 to recover, inventory, photograph, clean, service and return the personal effects of all the Pentagon fatalities. Any items that were unclaimed have remained at Dover AFB to this day, including numerous cell phones and jewelry recovered from the Pentagon.

Looking at the remaining personal effects, Weber said it’s a solemn reminder of that day, one he said changed the course of his career.

“Before 9/11, I was told by [leadership] that since I was a laboratory technician, I would never deploy,” said Weber. “That turned out not to be the case at all. I feel that all experiences that happen to you during your career have the opportunity to make you a better leader.”

Weber said we should remember the innocent lives lost and the heartbreak we felt as a nation as we watched the Twin Towers, Flight 93 and the Pentagon attacks.

“As members of the United States military, it’s our duty and honor to always be ready for any challenge that comes our way, because the world can change in the blink of an eye,” said Weber. “I will never forget.”