North Laurel High School graduate Robert Johnson enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in March 2000 and was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, Louisiana on Sept. 11, 2001, where President George Bush was flown to address the nation following the terrorist attacks on America. Now retired and residing in Pennsylvania, he reflects back on that fateful day and his outlook of the events now taking place in Afghanistan.
"Needless to say after four coordinated terrorist attacks by the terrorist group called Al-Qaeda, Barksdale AFB was put on the highest level of Force Protection 'Delta' and Homeland Security Advisory System was 'Serve.' Pretty much all of America and Americans were on high alert and very shocked by the events that were taking place, it was like a dream or movie, no way this could really be happening here in America. No one really knew if the terrorist attacks were over or if they had other attacks planned," he said. "Once the base got notified that the President would be flying in to address the nation, that put Barksdale AFB on a higher alert status."
That high security caused massive delays in the personnel arriving to their designated work stations with additional security checks being performed on every person and vehicle arriving to the base.
"Getting on base was a nightmare. The base gates were backed up and it took 20 to 30 times longer to get on base. The Security Police were checking inside and under all vehicles. It was really chaos, no one was truly prepared for the impromptu visit," he added.
The attacks, he felt, would prompt a war - a prediction that held true and one in which Johnson himself was directly involved.
"I feel we all expected war after the four attacks that happened on American soil. I thought we act fast, have some quick action(s), would strike hard and with deadly force. Just like Toby Keith's 'Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue' songs says, 'We lit up your world like the 4th of July'."
Johnson, who retired last year after 20 years of military service, was deployed to the Middle East where he participated in several missions to ensure the freedom from terrorist attacks and the advancement of Al Qaeda.
"I was deployed to Afghanistan and Qatar where all those missions were done to stop the Taliban from advancing and/or growing," he said.
The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan as the Taliban has taken over is something with which Johnson strongly disagrees.
"I truly believe that the Taliban will totally take over Afghanistan (this year) and will try to overtake other parts of the region. And women and children will be mistreated, raped, force to kill (be sent on suicide missions), and even murdered. I know we can't police the world but if USA or some other country doesn't intervene (real soon) it's going to be a total disaster and more terrorist attacks or attempts will occur," he said. "It will become Al-Qaeda on steroids. It feels being over there for 20 years, losing several GREAT Americans and costing several billions of dollars was just a waste. It's just a shame and an embarrassment."
With that, Johnson said he wasn't going to "get into the politics" of the situation. He did say that he felt that the attacks 20 years ago did have some positive aspects and that he hoped those new phases of government remained strong.
"I still view the events of 9-11 the same now as I did then," he said. "It was a total stock and still unbelievable that this did and could happen here in America. I think the attacks showed how vulnerable we were and the gaps in our Homeland Security. It seems like our intelligence has gotten better and we take the treats more seriously and act on them faster or at least investigate them."
"I think it has forced all nations' intelligence teams to take all threats more seriously and to act faster on them. Unfortunately terrorist attacks are happening way too often, even American civilians are carrying out forms of terrorist attacks," he said.
But, like most Americans and especially former military personnel, Johnson still believes in the American spirit and the strength that has been demonstrated itself over the history of the nation - the strength that has prevailed through uncountable trials and keeps the American light shining bright to the remainder of the world.