Did you know that Rome New York played a big role on keeping the skies safe on September 11th before and after the attacks? Eleven years ago, the U.S. Air Force technicians and officers of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) worked hard to defend the nation’s air. In recent years books, movies, and documentaries have shown the world their work on that day. 

In Rome at the former Griffiss Air Force Base you can find The Eastern Air Defense Sector. It’s one of two Sectors responsible to NORAD and the Continental NORAD Region. NORAD’s is used by the government for “peacetime air sovereignty, strategic air defense, and airborne counter-drug operations in the continental United States”.

On September 11th staff members worked deep into the night, without breaks.

For months, the Northeast Air Defense Sector staff assumed 12-hour shifts, six days in a row, in a perpetual state of high anxiety. Any air space abnormality sent tremors through the system.

In late 2002, the Bush Administration launched the 9/11 Commission, and its investigators quickly turned to Rome. For months, the Northeast Air Defense Sector staff faced questioning from the panel’s lawyers. In its report in 2004, the 9/11 Commission gave praise to The Northeast Air Defense Sector unit for its performance.

Five members of the Northeast Air Defense Sector unit from 11 years ago were asked to recall their memories from Sept. 11, 2001 to Syracuse.com, here’s what they had to say:

Col. Robert Marr, retired: “It was watching the second tower get hit. ... Prior to that, we had a hijacking. Several of us had handled hijackings, and we knew what to expect. We had gotten word that something had hit the World Trade Center, and even if it was the airliner we were tracking, it was an accident. When the second one hit, in that instant, it became an attack. That was the instant when we went to war.”

Lt. Col. James Fox: “For me, it is a feeling of helplessness. It’s the feeling that of every minute, regardless of how charged up I had my guys, and how hard we were working to get ahead of the problem, we were always three steps behind, and there was, in the end, nothing we could do to stop the event. It’s the feeling of trying to catch up, and never being able to.”

Senior Master Sgt. Maureen Dooley: “What stands out was how our hearts sank, when we finally got that picture up in that Battle Cab, when we saw a visual of what had happened. We who were working there, we didn’t get to see it until hours and hours after the event. We were working other potential hijackings. That was just devastating. It brought everything right home to your heart.

In conclusion, let’s never forget what happened on 9/11/2001 and let’s salute our men and women who continually fight to keep our country safe. Where were you on September 11th? When did you find out the news?


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