Remembering 9/11: Former Military, Now UT Faculty, Recall the Terrorist Attacks
About 20 minutes before the first plane hit the World Trade Center, Lt. Col. James Cody had taken off from the coast of South Carolina on an F-16 military training mission. An F-16 pilot and squadron commander in the U.S. Air Force, Cody was part of a four-plane formation heading out on a routine training mission over the Atlantic Ocean.
Cody, who retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 2007, is now director of the aerospace and Department of Defense non-degree programs for the Center for Executive Education in UT Knoxville’s College of Business Administration.
The morning of September 11, 2001, Cody’s flight was denied clearance to enter military training airspace by air traffic control. This was very unusual, and all flight members were confused. Then, across the emergency radio frequency on the jet, Cody heard the warning: “All continental U.S. airspace is now closed.” Commercial planes were ordered to find somewhere to land as quickly as possible; military flights were told to return to their bases.
“We had no idea what had happened,” he recalled. But they knew, whatever it was, it was very bad and could mean their next mission wouldn’t be training, but the real thing. Cody and his crew arrived back at their base in less than an hour.
“As soon as we landed, the crew chiefs told us everything that was going on,” he said. "They hit both towers at the World Trade Center, and they just hit the Pentagon. They think there are more planes that are a threat.”
The wing commander immediately had battle staff prepare base personnel for contingency operations and ordered aircraft be outfitted with wartime weapons. Cody and the others were able to get to a TV where they saw footage of the attacks and watched the aftermath unfold.
“I remember having two very extreme emotions,” Cody said. “Sorrow for the victims and anger toward the extremists, but also the feeling that the world had just changed forever, and so had our mission.”
For the next few months, Cody and his fighter squadron were assigned to fly missions in Operation Noble Eagle to assist federal, state, and local agencies with homeland security efforts. The mission was to protect the airspace throughout the U.S. for major events—from football games to NASCAR races to other large gatherings—where officials feared the terrorists might try to strike again.
“There are moments in our lives that define who we are and what our future holds,” Cody said. “The events of 9/11 must never be forgotten.”
An Air Force lieutenant colonel teaching wartime public relations strategy at the Air Force Public Affairs Center of Excellence at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, White was at Air University in Montgomery preparing for a lecture about wartime propaganda on September 11, 2011.
White—a UT alumnus who was commissioned in the university’s AFROTC detachment—is now head of the Aerospace & Defense MBA program in the College of Business Administration. On 9/11, when White and the others at Air University got news of the terrorist attacks, they immediately started speculating that the U.S. was headed to war.
“Because we knew we would be fighting an enemy that had no military bases and operated out of homes and restaurants and pharmacies, and that they would try to mobilize the Muslim world in support of their cause, we knew the ‘battle for hearts and minds’ would be a big part of the conflict,” he said. “Needless to say, when I began my lecture two hours later, I had everyone’s attention.”
White went home to his family at the end of the day, and they wondered what the coming months would bring.
“Because I had been researching and teaching wartime propaganda and media relations for two years and had led PR operations for other combat missions, I felt as if I should be going with our first wave of forces,” he said. He was worried about telling his wife how he felt.
“When I finally did, much to my amazement, I learned my wife, Deena, felt the same way. Deena was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with our fourth child on 9/11. Yet, her patriotism and love of her country trumped her desire to have her husband by her side for the delivery. With her blessings, I told my commander the next day that I would like to volunteer to deploy at the first opportunity. They agreed, and I left a few days later for Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia.”
White’s mother-in-law arranged to come to Montgomery to help with Deena and the kids.
“Her mother arrived in Montgomery around dinner time on September 28. Deena went into labor two hours later, and Lauren Diana White was born late that evening,” he said.
“I learned of the birth by e-mail within hours. My first sight of Lauren was a digital picture of Deena holding her in her arms on a doorstep of a neighbor’s house with an American flag waving in the background.”
White was deployed for three months.
“Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Pentagon leaders chose a PR strategy of releasing very little information in the early phase of Operation Enduring Freedom, so in Saudi Arabia my primary mission was to research data to support Pentagon responses to mostly unsupported allegations of collateral damage and civilian casualties,” he said. “However, we also built some fairly comprehensive communication plans for what we would release, how we would do it, and how it would influence the conflict if we took a more active PR posture. Those plans came in very handy when I deployed for the same role at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where the Pentagon adopted a much more open PR strategy.”
“I learned a lot about how America and our allies plan for, manage, and execute a high-tempo war and the PR challenges that come with that. I also got to see up close and personal a bunch of great Americans patriotically rally in defense of our country and global security. I also saw once again how professional and capable our military really is,” White said. “My three-month deployment there at that time was one of the greatest privileges of my life.”