Readiness…Left of the phone call

  • Published
  • By Col. Shawn Mattingly, Vice Commander
  • 403rd Wing

I was a first lieutenant at the time, a KC-10 aircraft commander and an Air Reserve Technician.  I was on my way to work on what was an absolutely gorgeous morning.  I had the sunroof open and rock music blaring (sadly songs only found on classic rock stations now), and I had not a care in the world.  The sky that morning was this incredible blue color with not a cloud in sight.  So blue that the local radio weather personality interrupted to comment, and she called it periwinkle.  I remember thinking she got it right.  I pulled into the squadron, took one last look at the sky and then ran inside to get to work.

I noticed a few pilots just showing up and murmuring about something happening nearby.  We turned the TV on, and in that moment, I saw the second plane hit the south tower of the World Trade Center complex.  I remember it in slow motion, each frame, and then the explosion with debris, and then everything came back to normal speed … and the phone rang. We were ready.

The phone wasn’t ringing just in my office, it was ringing in every group, squadron and section in our wing. 

It rang in the Mission Support Group, and within minutes, our building was surrounded with security forces facing out and providing a corridor to the aircraft.  Billeting and orders were already being arranged for the 24/7 operations that would go on for months.  They were ready.

It rang in the maintenance hangar, and maintainers sprinted for the flight line and started turning aircraft and loading every jet to our maximum fuel load.  They were ready.

From Wing Staff, to medical, to aerial port, and every office in between, civilian or military, the phone rang, and they were ready. 

I will never forget the difference a few seconds and a phone call can make in the entire trajectory of a country and in my life personally.  I went from admiring an incredible blue sky, to later orbiting over the still smoldering remains of a set of landmarks I had known my whole life that was filled with people from neighborhoods all around me.  That morning still guides my career and life over 20 years later.  

The reality is this--we have from now until the phone rings to get ready.  And the call has already been received by the 934th Airlift Wing, a fellow 22nd Air Force member. So, how will you spend this UTA?  Will you get that flu shot that’s overdue?  Will you sign that officer or enlisted performance report?  Will you make your scheduled medical appointments? Each of these tasks is a small thing, but they add up to a ready reservist, and that is our job.  If you watch the news, you can understand the urgency.

Readiness is just a choice, and we have from now until the phone rings to make it.  Let’s choose this weekend to go home Sunday afternoon truly ready for that call.