EL CENTRO — The Naval Air Facility El Centro honored U.S. Navy personnel who perished 9/11 in a memorial ceremony attended by military personnel, allied troops and civilians Wednesday, September 11, at the military base.
With the backdrop of the U.S. flag flown at half-mast, a static display of first responder vehicle units — firefighters, law enforcement officers, and emergency medical personnel — as well as a trainer aircraft T-45 Goshawk aircraft flying above the base, a solemn remembrance ceremony honored U.S. Navy sailors who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country that morning in 2001.
“We are going to remember the sailors that were killed on that attack on the Pentagon 18 years ago,” said Kristopher Haugh, public affairs officer for NAF El Centro.
A press release from from the Navy facility stated that the event was not open to the general public. It was intended for base personnel, visiting detachments, their families, and selected special guests. Also present were British Army and the Royal Danish Air Force personnel.
Chief Petty Officer Justin Patt, USN, read the timeline of events of the terrorists attack on U.S. soil. He was also one of three individuals who read the names of those who perished. After reading a group of names, Patt rang a single bell toll to honor and signify that those who have fallen were remembered by the living.
After all the names of officers were read, Chaplain Jenkins gave the benediction, followed by Taps. Military personnel and allied troops stood straight and saluted for the duration of the bugle call.
Executive Officer Cmdr. Jeremy Doughty remembered well the circumstances surrounding the attack. On September 10, he was in Lower Manhattan to file the last documentation to become a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy.
The following day, Cmdr. Doughty was back at home in Maine watching television when the news of the attack broke.
“I’d just been commissioned in the U.S. Navy and was awaiting going to flight school in Pensacola, Florida. So, I wondered what and where my path would be in the near future and what my new normal would be,” said Cmdr. Doughty. His flight school was delayed due to changes in military redeployment and training. “I ended up going to flight school later that winter.”
As T-45 jet planes, painted red and white, roared above the base, Cmdr. Doughty said, “This is the place where naval aviators came to do their initial weapons training. They turn, essentially a civilian pilot, into a war fighter ... These are the men and women who are going to run aircraft carriers that provide a forward presence abroad so that we can ... prevent another 9-11, and to keep the fight as far away from the United States was we can. And that's what the service members of all branches are doing day in and day out as we sleep comfortably in our beds,” said Cmdr. Doughty.
Capt. Brent Alfonzo USN, NAF El Centro commanding officer, was on his way to the Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego to do a maintenance check flight on a helicopter when he heard reports of an aircraft striking the World Trade Center. When the second plane struck the other tower, Cmdr. Alfonzo said he knew the U.S. was under attack.
As an aviator, his deployment cycle, as with other military branches, immediately changed. From on-shore duty, “We moved into combat operations in Afghanistan and then Iraq. We went to war and started deploying more. A lot of people spent a lot of time away from home as a result of those attacks.”
According to Cmdr. Alfonzo, universally increased security was implemented throughout military bases, including NAF El Centro. “America woke up to a real terrorism threat and we had to respond."
Referring to the military personnel, base families, allied military forces, and first responders who were able to break from their busy schedule and take a moment to commemorate the tragedy and all the good things that came of that tragedy, Cmdr. Alfonzo said, “I was extremely pleased to see the level of response; the pulling together of our nation and the response to defend our nation.”