Maj. Gen. Dawne L. Deskins, Air National Guard deputy director, praised the resilience, determination and volunteer spirit of Air National Guardsmen during a 9/11 remembrance address Saturday at the Eastern Air Defense Sector (EADS).
“Today we remember the almost 3,000 lives lost in that terrible tragedy, but today is also about something else. It is about determination, resilience and hope,” Deskins said.
A former EADS Commander, Deskins was the keynote speaker at the ceremony, which marked the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa. The ceremony featured a 9/11 memorial unveiling and was attended by more than 200 Airmen, local elected officials, invited guests and former members.
EADS, then known at the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), was the first military unit informed that planes had been hijacked on 9/11. NEADS Airmen, working with limited information and less time, coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration and searched radar in an attempt to find the hijacked planes and direct fighter jets to intercept them.
Part of the NEADS battle command staff on 9/11, Deskins has recounted the day in dozens of media interviews over the years. Reporters always ask about the operations floor, with the expectation that it was a chaotic scene.
“Instead, I tell them how controlled and quiet it really was,” Deskins said.
“The men and women of the Northeast Air Defense Sector knew what they were doing and did it well,” the general added. “There was an urgency in their every move and I was never prouder of them than I was on that day.”
The Air National Guard’s volunteer spirit was a memorable part of the day as well. Retired Brig. Gen. Robert K. Marr, the NEADS Commander on 9/11, realized quickly that he needed more fighter aircraft. Deskins joined others to organize a phone bank and started calling guard units across the northeastern U.S., asking if they could get jets airborne and armed with missiles.
“Every single Air National Guard unit we asked for help that morning answered the call without hesitation,” she said.
Individual Airmen even drove to their units and offered to do whatever was needed. “They were not asked, they merely did what they felt they should do,” Deskins said.
That spirit is still evident 20 years later.
“After 20 years of war since the attacks of 9/11, I can safely say the state of the Air National Guard is strong. We are made up of an incredible cadre of strong, resilient and diverse Airmen of all backgrounds and walks of life,” Deskins said.
In addition to Deskins, retired Brig. Gen. Marr and Col. Paul M. Bishop, the EADS Commander, spoke at the ceremony.
The ceremony’s highlight was the unveiling of EADS’ 9/11 memorial. Situated in a small, open field near the facility’s entrance, the memorial is a circular brick walkway built around a sapling from the Survivor Tree, which was found alive during recovery operations at the World Trade Center in October 2001 and rehabilitated. The memorial will eventually include a small steel beam from the World Trade Center and benches.