Lofton: It was a deliberate act

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- His thoughts were the same as everyone else's the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. It was an accident; nothing more. 

Col. Samuel Lofton III, the 82nd Training Group commander, began preparing relief efforts for the first crash when the unthinkable happened. A second airliner was intentionally flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center, sending debris from the aircraft plummeting to the streets below. 

"It was a deliberate act," he said. "I wasn't sure why, but it definitely was not an accident."
The colonel, who was the executive assistant to the director for logistics, J-4, at the Pentagon, continued working relief efforts from his level to aid the victims of the attack in Manhattan. Then horror struck the nerve center of the United States military - the Pentagon. 

"I definitely knew something was wrong as sirens and alarm systems started," he said. "There was no real sense of panic or fear, just time to execute emergency action procedures." 

Colonel Lofton said he was able to help some people out of the building, but his on-scene commander duties forced him to focus on the various ingredients of the response teams to the wounded side of the structure and deployment to alternate command locations. Thick black smoke billowed across the sky as Pentagon employees rushed to the aid of others. 

He said there were a "multitude of scenes" that morning at the Pentagon. Personnel responded to the crash site, while others conducted accountability checks or explained what they saw or heard. 

But, Colonel Lofton said it isn't the image of the gaping hole spewing plumes of smoke and ash that he recalls the most. It isn't of the masses fleeing the building to a safe place. 

It's of those same people returning to work the next day ready to take on the nation's business. 

"Even though some members spent the night in the Pentagon, the long lines of Pentagon 'warriors' returning to work the next day" is what the colonel remembered.  "Long lines of cars backed up for miles with 'America's finest' ready to respond to the events that occurred the previous day." 

A lot has changed in the United States since that day from the social and political climate to the opinions of foreign policy. Colonel Lofton said one of the most beneficial changes that rose from the ashes of the Pentagon was the joint force concept. 

"It validated the need for more integrated military operations across the spectrum of armed conflict," he said. "A capabilities approach to warfighting provides combatant commanders the tools to succeed." 

The attacks of 9/11 also changed the face of the Air Force, he said. The value of the AIR FORCE'S air power was solidified by military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

"The Air Force's ability to deliver and execute the fight in short order continues to set the standard for victory in the Global War on Terrorism," he said. 

On the local front, Colonel Lofton said more emphasis has been placed on producing mission-ready Airmen to contribute immediately to GWOT as soon as they arrive at their operational assignments. He said never more has the criticality of training Airmen been more important. 

"The young men and women who enter the gates of Sheppard must understand and grasp that they could possibly be in harm's way within months of graduating," he said. "Therefore, it is paramount that each member of Team Sheppard fulfills their duties in the utmost manner possible." 

His training group is one of four here that provides the Air Force with highly-trained and highly-skilled Airmen ready to meet the needs of their country. He said airmen entering the Air Force today should be commended for volunteering during a time of war to support their country's efforts in spreading democracy and peace across the globe. 

Colonel Lofton added that America's sons and daughters and coalition partners trained here are a direct reflection of the quality of training provided by instructors and military training leaders here, solidifying the fact that "Combat Capability Starts Here." 

"The tools and skills by which we equip our graduates will extend well into the Air Force of tomorrow, and ensures our nation remains 'the land of the free and home of the brave,'" he said.