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What 9/11 Looked Like To The Only American Service Member Not On Earth
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in 2017 and is being republished for the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
The question of “where were you on Sept. 11?,” the traditional addendum to the distinctly post-9/11 rallying cry of “never forget,” means something different to the service members and veterans who saw combat in the Global War on Terror than it does for the average civilians. Thousands of military personnel sprang into action on that Tuesday, from racing toward the World Trade Center and Pentagon alongside first responders to securing U.S. air sovereignty from the cockpit of an F-15. In the decade that followed, more than 3 million Americans joined the armed forces. The attacks were an unmistakable call of duty, one that Americans are still answering 16 years later.
But there was one U.S. service member who felt helpless in the face of the century’s most heinous terrorist attack. He was Navy aviator Capt. Frank Lee Culbertson, and on 9/11, he was stranded in outer space.
The moment that al Qaeda hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center’s North Tower, Culbertson was 220 miles above the Earth’s surface aboard the International Space Station, one month into his stay as commander of the Expedition 3 mission there. A former F-4 Phantom pilot with the USS Midway in the 1970s, F-4 program manager, and veteran of three spaceflights after joining NASA in 1984, Culbertson’s seen some shit from his high-tech nest screaming across the sky. But in a letter reflecting on the events of Sept. 11 just days after the attacks, Culbertson described the surreal scene unfolding on the island of Manhattan below:
I had just finished a number of tasks this morning, the most time-consuming being the physical exams of all crew members. In a private conversation following that, the flight surgeon told me they were having a very bad day on the ground. I had no idea...
He described the situation to me as best he knew it at ~0900 CDT. I was flabbergasted, then horrified. My first thought was that this wasn't a real conversation, that I was still listening to one of my Tom Clancy tapes. It just didn't seem possible on this scale in our country. I couldn't even imagine the particulars, even before the news of further destruction began coming in.
Astronaut Frank L. Culbertson, Jr. (center), Expedition Three mission commander, flanked by cosmonauts Mikhail Tyurin and Vladimir N. Dezhurov, both flight engineers, assemble for a group photo in the Zvezda Service Module on the International Space Station (ISS)Photo via NASA
The other members of Expedition 3, Russian cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Mikhail Tyurin, were “clearly sympathetic” when Culbertson relayed the flight surgeon’s assessment of the news on the ground. But the true scope of the attack didn’t sink in until the ISS passed over New England just minutes later:
It's horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are. And the knowledge that everything will be different than when we launched by the time we land is a little disconcerting.
Photo via Landsat 7/NASA Goddard Office of Public Affairs
Despite having a front-row seat to the horror unfolding miles below, Culbertson expressed his faith that even if he couldn’t answer the call of duty at that moment, his fellow service members absolutely would.
“I have confidence in our country and in our leadership that we will do everything possible to better defend her and our families, and to bring justice for what has been done,” Culbertson concluded. “I have confidence that the good people at NASA will do everything necessary to continue our mission safely and return us safely at the right time. And I miss all of you very much.”
Former Marine Commandant tells Trump that pardoning troops accused of war crimes 'relinquishes the moral high ground'
Former Marine Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak has issued a statement urging President Donald Trump and members of Congress to oppose pardons for those accused or convicted of war crimes since, he argued, it would "relinquish the United States' moral high ground."
"If President Trump follows through on reports that he will mark Memorial Day by pardoning individuals accused or convicted of war crimes, he will betray these ideals and undermine decades of precedent in American military justice that has contributed to making our country's fighting forces the envy of the world," said Krulak, who served in the Marine Corps for more than three decades before retiring in 1999 as the 31st Commandant.
Editor's Note: The following story highlights a veteran at Associated Materials. Committed to including talented members of the military community in its workplace, Associated Materials Incorporated is a client of Hirepurpose, a Task & Purpose sister company. Learn more here.
Associated Materials, a residential and commercial siding and window manufacturer based in Ohio, employs people from a variety of backgrounds. The company gives them an opportunity to work hard and grow within the organization. For Tim Betsinger, Elizabeth Dennis, and Tanika Carroll, all military veterans with wide-ranging experience, Associated Materials has provided a work environment similar to the military and a company culture that feels more like family than work.
President Donald Trump will nominate Barbara Barrett to serve as the next Air Force secretary, the president announced on Tuesday.
"I am pleased to announce my nomination of Barbara Barrett of Arizona, and former Chairman of the Aerospace Corporation, to be the next Secretary of the Air Force," Trump tweeted. "She will be an outstanding Secretary! #FlyFightWin"
The Trump administration is trying to assure Congress that it does not want to start a war with Iran, but some lawmakers who fought in Iraq are not so sure.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford both briefed Congress on Tuesday about Iran. Shanahan told reporters earlier on Tuesday that the U.S. military buildup in the region has stopped Iran and its proxies from attacking U.S. forces, but the crisis is not yet over.
"We've put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans," Shanahan said. "That doesn't mean that the threats that we've previously identified have gone away. Our prudent response, I think, has given the Iranians time to recalculate. I think our response was a measure of our will and our resolve that we will protect our people and our interests in the region."
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump warned on Monday Iran would be met with "great force" if it attacked U.S. interests in the Middle East, and government sources said Washington strongly suspects Shi'ite militias with ties to Tehran were behind a rocket attack in Baghdad's Green Zone.
"I think Iran would be making a very big mistake if they did anything," Trump told reporters as he left the White House on Monday evening for an event in Pennsylvania. "If they do something, it will be met with great force but we have no indication that they will."