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This is the final piece in a five-part series, recalling, from a personal perspective, the days of September 2001 and following.

Continued from Part IV, “Faruq“.

– – –

It was two or three weeks later, maybe more, that I was again listening to National Public Radio on the way home from work. The news was still dominated by the tragedy and what was probably coming next. By this time, the stories were beginning to drill down to the second and third levels – some of the secondary events and background personalities that were beginning to surface. It was then that I heard a report that began with something like, “And now for another story of several individuals the FBI is continuing to try to locate . . .”

They named him precisely.

And it went from there: A pilot based in Nashville . . . disappeared days after the attacks . . . . no trace . . . one of many suspects . . . unaccounted for . . . wanted for questioning . . . the 20th hijacker . . . others not yet identified . . . . . . and on and on.

Man-Silhouette

If there were ever a time when I actually did need to pull my car off to the side of the road, this was it. The problem was, I was sitting in a left turn lane in afternoon rush hour traffic, waiting my turn to get on the highway. There was nowhere I could go. But I felt like I had to go somewhere. I had a rush of emotion, of confusion, of fury. Just like that very day, again I was stunned. But this time there was a new feeling that hit me. I felt betrayed. He talked to me about what now seemed to be this very thing. I was the one he talked to. Me. It was nearly as powerful for me as everything that had happen on September 11th.

The FBI Special Agent-in-Charge who came to Jeppesen to interview me turned out to be a friend and former colleague of mine. In the first year I lived in Denver and while I attended graduate school, I worked an assignment (I was an Air Force Reserve intelligence officer) for the FBI as an intelligence analyst with the Metro Gang Task Force, doing our small part to combat the drug war as it came into the Denver suburbs from California and Mexico. “Carl” was now working in a different division, still in the Denver office, but had clearly performed well and had built on his already high reputation. He was now in white-collar crime but was asked to head up the Denver-area investigation in this global terrorism case. We had not seen each other since the spring of 1995 and it was a bittersweet reunion.

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Because I had an active security clearance, he and I were eventually able to discuss things on a level that others in my position could not. That I happened to be in sales at Jeppesen, knew “Carl”, and had a clearance was altogether coincidental but fortuitous. It was agreed that I would, for a few days, be off my normal sales work at Jeppesen and would put my analyst skills to work on reviewing records, conducting link-analysis and try to come up with some useful conclusions with the advantages of both my previous experience and my knowledge and understanding of Jeppesen database tools. This was a brief task, and investigators moved on quickly; it appeared as though nothing really developed from those efforts. I’ll never know.

In the end, Faruq was deemed to be by all accounts innocent.

As far as the Authorities could determine, he was as so many during those terrible, tragic, and chaotic days. It looked bad for him, but apparently, he was simply just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was reported many weeks later and repeatedly in a type of “where are they now?” report that spanned the national new media outlets in various versions. In all likelihood, he did what many did – he fled the country as fast as he could, not wanting to take a chance at getting caught up in something he was not part of in the first place. I do not know how he did it.

As for me, I have to admit I still harbor my doubts about him.

It was all too close as far as I was concerned, too coincidental to be unrelated. I remain uncertain either way now, and cannot quite say exactly what I believe is true about him. But he is gone now, by all accounts, and that day is past. But not ever completely.

– – –

In these intervening years I have realized I am quite alone it seems, in my perspective on the term “9-11.” This realization was furthered this week when my wife and I watched a wonderfully produced and powerful special program by Fox News, Freedom Rising that attempts to encompass September 11th in its entirety, its centerpiece being the rebuilding in New York.

There are many names now, including the “9/11 Foundation” and the “9/11 Memorial”. The general reference “9/11” has been commonly adopted and is essentially universal.

1WTC_Viewfrom8SpruceStreet_Medium

So, these years later I find myself not quite as committed in my rejection of the term; perhaps even a bit more accepting of it. What results for me is the awareness of a slight sense of disappointment in myself because of it. I know that so much of that is – and was – driven by how I felt at the time, and for the most part, I have not changed in that regard.

It is clear that our feelings – emotions – while incredibly important and so should be given due respect and attention, are real and important, but they must not drive our judgment or decisions. Reality and responsibility must dictate those, regardless of our ever-changing feelings.

The truth remains, and duty remains, regardless of how we feel or what we think.

And so they do, even these eternal years after.

– – –

On May 10th, 2013, the final component to the One World Trade Center spire was placed, and at a height of exactly 1,776 feet, made it the tallest structure in the western hemisphere. Here is a video of that historic event.

World Trade Center

The United States of America has always been about new beginnings – starting over, trying again, creating, building up, and going on. It has been a central part of the fabric of our nation. Every one of us has wanted it or perhaps needed to do that at some point in our lives. Certainly I have.

Each of us individually makes up that fabric. But not just us, but all those who came before us; from those family and friends we know now, who have come here to join us during our own lifetime, to our ancestors who forsook Leiden in the 17th century to embark on a most hazardous journey and yet one full of promise.

Promise – fully the reason they came here. The promise of a new future.

– – –

You may select this link to read the original piece, September 11th, published in September 2009.

More reading about One World Trade Center, here.

You may find information about the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum here.

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You may read about the National Park Service Flight 93 Memorial site here, and support here.

You may read about the official Pentagon 9/11 Memorial here, and support here.

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Beginning in early August 2001, I started a month-long conversation with a pilot of Middle Eastern origin flying a business jet out of Nashville, Tennessee.

Man-Silhouette

I was assisting him with plans for a Nashville-to-Saudi Arabia trip to be made sometime in September. He required what I considered to be standard materials – a trip kit – a one-time purchase – guaranteed to be current (legal) for a relatively short period of time, say, 14 days. He needed this because he was not a regular subscriber to “Jepps”, Jeppesen instrument flight charts, in simplest terms. He would also require electronic NavData for his GPS – Global Positioning System. The trip kit would be in paper, and would be quite a stack.

I’ll call him “Faruq”.

Every “plate” – essentially overhead views and profile views, technical “drawings” – somewhat akin to architectural blueprints – of how to fly an approach into an airport, how to depart from one, and how to fly in between, all with the intent of not hitting or even getting close to anybody else. When printed, they are on what I would call “Bible paper”; a half sheet and of the same type and feel. Electronically, they are displayed through a device on the cockpit instrument panel. Any ten-year-old kid would these days recognize it.

JeppsKBHM122_Not For Nav

Faruq would need the charts for the Eastern United States, Eastern Canada, HI and LO altitude, crossing the Atlantic, Western Europe, and finally the Middle East. His “NavData” would consist of two separate data cards each of which looked like a super-thick plain, black credit card with gold contacts on one end. Then add in the flight planning software. Pretty expensive package, all told; say, four-to-five figures, in the low-several thousands of dollars. As much as it costs, it’s pretty routine for private and business jet operators.

Now, it’s done in a much more integrated, even higher-tech fashion, with more electronics and less paper and other objects to worry about, but the costs are still about the same – high.

– – –

Private Jets: A Guy I Know

A brief interlude, and a bit lighter view of the subject for a moment.

– – –

Guys (they are usually guys…) who own the jets they fly, as many do, or at least fly on, may be  different than most of us, but in many ways, are not so different. It’s that thing about putting your pants on one leg at a time.

I know a guy in Casey, Illinois (about 30 minutes west of my hometown in Indiana) who owns a manufacturing business with a few locations around the country, so, for many reasons, he chooses to own a jet. It’s a Lear 25-something-or-other (I can’t remember exactly now, it’s been too many years) that he keeps in Bloomington, up-state. First, he can afford it. Second, it’s a practical matter for him.

Lear25B_rev1

Who wouldathunk, right there in Casey, of all places, where my aunt Mildred was nurse at the high school for 50 gazillion years. Well, you gotta be from somewhere, and you gotta live somewhere. Might as well be there. I appreciate that he chooses to remain living in his hometown (something I have not done).

I know another guy, I’ll call him “Viktor.” He is a Russian art collector (ancient religious iconography is one of his keenest interests), investor, and philanthropist. He lives in a few places, to include London. So, he also has a jet – A Gulfstream V, if I recall correctly. Huge, expensive, beautiful, yaduh, yaduh, yaduh.

He (and quite a few others) reminds me that immense personal wealth is (or at least can be) a very good thing.

Statistics demonstrate that such people, their trusts and foundations, their direct personal giving and so on contribute with enormous impact. Viktor does. By-and-large, it seems to be their nature. While they can certainly live the way they want (which is by the way, what most people aspire to achieve), they tend to be the financial drivers of positive change in most communities, and they do it freely. I am surely glad for what they are able to do and choose to do.

Viktor once called me to continue working on arrangments for a ’round the world trip.

It was to be partly with his wife and the plan was to mix business and pleasure: Donations and lending of art to various galleries and other philanthropic engagements and some sightseeing, some aircraft business and so on.

It would start in London and on to the heart of Europe then east to Moscow, down to the Persian Gulf, back to several cities in Africa (charitable foundation and art world stuff there), then Brazil, then Dallas or Savannah (again foggy memory) for some extended refresher training in a G5 simulator and an A&P course (Airframe and Powerplant mechanic certification stuff), then New York and finally home to London.

Gulfstream_Aerospace_G-V-SP_Gulfstream_G550_MEL_Vabre

Partly with his wife because he did not want to put her through the solo time while he was getting trained and recertified. That would be sorta like asking your wife to stand in the back yard and watch while you try to assemble then try to use a new weed-whacker. She’s got better stuff to do.

So when he called, he was in Africa – for pure personal fun this time.

He was on safari somewhere, but he was feeling nervous about getting prepared for the Big Trip. So he briefly interrupted his adventure to call and confirm a few details with me. In his thick but (like the British) very intelligent-sounding English, sort of yelling because he didn’t trust his cellphone, he said, “Michael, I am sitting in a jeep looking at an elephant!”

I swear, I pictured nutty old uncle Ernest Hemingway, phone in one hand, Winchester .458 in the other, multitasking with life itself, oblivious to what could happen next – to himself or anyone near him – and having a good time doing it. If I had heard a huge KaBoom! right then and there and a bunch of panicked yelling I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised.

I liked his Russian English, but he was often frustrated by it. Many times he put his very proper English wife on the phone with me to sort out what he really wanted to say. She replaced his heavily accented and numerous “I’m sorry Michael”‘s with that intoxicating and wonderfully flowing Queen’s English. I truly didn’t care what the words actually were; they could have been made up for all I cared. I just listened in a sort of trance. At that point it was just 8-year-old me lying in bed and Mary Poppins singing something about about tuppens and cough syrup, lulling me to baby-sleep. I could have had her translate Viktor for me for the rest of my life and been pretty happy about it.

Anyway, during that global trip, he ended up calling me from Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. He was in the midst of his wealthy, luxuriant frustration, agonizing over a very expensive broken gadget-thingy, and needing another trip kit because now his jaunt was going to be extended by a week or so… IF he could get the very expensive gadget-thingy fixed. He would say his immense wealth was rapidly depleting with his questionable decision to some wear some of his multiple hats.

I asked a simple but rotten question: “How is it?”

His response was pretty down-to-earth and relatable.

“Michael, I am the mechanic, the pilot, the janitor, the caterer, the electronics technician, and sadly, the owner.”

I guess crap feels the same for everyone, regardless of where it comes from.

– – –

That “Faruq” was in need of a Jeppesen Trip Kit was in itself somewhat odd in that virtually every business jet on the planet that regularly flies internationally – which this one did – requires Jeppesen procedures, whether paper or electronic, and Jeppesen electronic NavData for their on-board navigation systems.

Jeppesen is (or at least was at that time) the only producer of such information and electronic data on a worldwide scale. (Other businesses, such as SwissAir, and some governments produce regional information for internal consumption, but nothing on the scale of Jepp). If someone is to fly globally, they have to use Jeppesen.

My memory of all the fine details of this event is not as clear as it was ten years ago; I think my conclusion must have been that this was a newly acquired aircraft and perhaps flying “home” so did not yet require any subscriptions. A trip kit would suffice. So our conversations continued. We spoke regularly – two to three times each week. Eventually, what became the most outstanding aspect of those conversations was the thing that led to a standstill: money.

Normally – routinely – Jepp takes this type call all day long, every day. These people pay right now. If they can afford this aircraft, or if their company deems it necessary to have it, they can pay, and they do. The people who fly on a company aircraft from Seattle to a meeting in Minneapolis or from Teterboro to London, or the guy who flies a family-owned G-4 to the Kamchatka Peninsula to go salmon fishing, or the small but very hard-working, very successful factory owner – say, a foundry or electronic components, or wiring harnesses, or industrial hydraulic pumps – and he’s the guy from Casey.

He owns his Lear because it’s what’s needed and not because it’s fun – and flies from Bloomington to Columbus to Little Rock to Dayton and back home all in two days – they all have established themselves and their businesses financially enough to pay for their flying.

– – –

But not my guy, Faruq.

What first stood out about him was how exceptionally polite and articulate he was. Not that he got the Queen’s English exactly right. Lord knows that we Hoosiers (or maybe just we Hoosiers south of I-70) rarely do that. He had his grammatical foibles, but he handled his english a lot better than I would have handled my Arabic.

It was his presentation that stood out more than anything. And it developed into an upward spiral. The more polite and appreciative he was, the more I enjoyed speaking with him and helping, then, in return, the more pleasant he continued to be. And so it went. But somewhere after our second or third conversation, the calls began to end with projections and anticipations of when and precisely how payment would be wired or a company credit card would be provided.

The plans were clearly stalling for want of “show me the money.”

– – –

By early September the calls were coming almost daily.

He became very apologetic and began searching me for alternative ways to get the materials shipped on time; he had a hard deadline he had to meet. He would say, “We’ve got to go by . . .” or “The boss needs to depart no later than . . ” and he became more and more animated in his expressions over the phone, making it clear this was extremely important and he was becoming desperate, caught in the middle.

But invariably we would end up rehashing the fact that I could not ship anything without full payment. It had arrived at a place that was entirely uncharacteristic of business jet operators.

It was then that again he would apologize profusely and assure me he was doing everything he could to arrange payment but it was difficult. It was clear to me that moving payment from “Saudi to here” would continue to be fraught with snags. For whatever reasons, a credit card couldn’t do it. Cash converted to a cashier’s check couldn’t either. Neither could a wire. So the order never went.

– – –

Our last phone conversation was sometime during the week of September 3-7; I do not recall exactly which day. Faruq expressed the slightest bit of hope that a wire transfer could be made, but he also spoke with what stood out to me as an undertone of resignation, as if he knew the trip he needed to take so badly – or the trip he was under such pressure to complete – would not take place. He was friendly and polite all the while. He thanked me and I thanked him and wished him the best.

Over the weekend, as he occurred to me only as an after-thought, I expected to hear from him Monday, September 10th, but didn’t.

Then of course, it was Tuesday.

– – –

Next week: Part V – Gone and Forever

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– – –

Jeppesen “plate” image credit Jeppesen and courtesy The Professional Pilots Rumour Network

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This is the third in a five part series, published weekly through September 11th.

– – –

Andy’s and Ralph’s deaths were an accident.

Everyone who either flies or lives in that world will eventually know someone who is killed in that dangerous course. Sadly, terribly, it’s part of it. But what happened at Columbine High School was no accident, and the terrorist attacks of September 11th were not an accident.

And now here was another component that added to my broader perspective on what had happened to all of us:

A month shy of one year before – October 2000 – I was in Germany to participate in an Air Force exercise, Trailblazer 01, just weeks after the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.

mec & cst

My lifelong friend – also a close friend to Andy and Ralph – Cliff Thomas, was also there. He went as part of a contingent of the Syracuse (New York) Air National Guard unit. We had wanted to travel to Germany together since we were small boys, and now here we were.

We spent time with his grandmother and other family members in Oberursel, outside Frankfurt, then drove south and west to Ramstein and Landstuhl for our work. That was the good part. But the sobering part was also there.

Barely a month before, the injured – and dead – sailors from the terrorist attack against the USS Cole had been brought to Landstuhl Medical Center, just one hundred-some yards from where I was staying. Situated in the deep, beautiful woods above the picturesque town of Landstuhl, the US Army’s Regional Medical Center was where all our casualties from the Middle East and Europe were brought. Most of the injured Cole sailors were still there when Cliff and I arrived, and some of them died there.

2009_12_24_Daniel

In the spring of 2011, it was again to Landstuhl that a soldier I had a connection to was taken with life-threatening injuries. My niece was dating a young man from Littleton, Colorado whose brother, Daniel – both of whom had attended Columbine High School – was serving with a Marine unit in Afghanistan.

While on a dismounted patrol somewhere in the Helmand Province, an IED – and Improvised Explosive Device – detonated, and when it did he lost both legs and a portion of his left hand, including fingers. After more than two intensive and tenuous months in hospital, Daniel had recovered sufficiently to travel and with his parents at his side, winged his way home.

I was privileged and humbled to be at Denver International Airport to see Daniel arrive to a huge and awe-struck, yet cheering crowd of family, friends, television cameras and supportive and thankful admirers.

Suffice it to say he is a remarkable and inspiring guy. See and hear more of his story here, from Denver’s 9News.

Today, with the help of an amazing family, dedicated friends, and a true-to-their-word US Marine Corps, he is well into discovering and developing a new life. Be sure to take a few minutes to visit his blog. Click on James Nachtwey’s photo, below to see his piece in TIME.

James Nachtwey for TIME

And so I was reminded once again that although I had at that time been retired from the Air Force for almost three years, the war still raged, then almost ten years on.

Those few weeks I spent at Ramstein’s Warrior Preparation Center – the WPC – just outside Landstuhl in October of 2000, were more than an exercise for me, as it turned out.

The month before had been the USS Cole attack and during the same period my friends in the Colorado fighter squadron were leaving Incirlik, Turkey, having completed their latest turn flying the Northern No Fly Zone in Iraq and were being replaced by my former squadron mates and friends of the Terre Haute unit.

Greg, Chris, mec, Savannah, 1994

All these people I knew, from such far-flung places and this place I was in now in the midst of world events – it all seemed in some way to be centering here. The total experience was powerful and acute, as though I was staring into the convergence of globally significant events with a personal connection to it all.

The personal intensity was compounded, too, because my wife was home and very pregnant with our son, Jace and our sixth anniversary passed during my time away. It was not the best time to volunteer for an exercise overseas, but it was nothing compared to what so many others had committed to. (I had roses sent to her to deliver at work – I thought quite a feat to pull off from half way across the world.)

kkc, jwc, mec, home, 2002 002

The experience manifest itself in a peculiar emotion that, even now, when I think of my time there, generates a unique feeling reserved for that time and place.

– – –

Photo Credits:
USS Cole, DoD photo
Cpl. Daniel C. W. Riley, USMC, Daniel Riley
Landstuhl, inaz4sun, Wonderunderground.com
Cpl DCW Riley wounded, UH-60 crew, James Nachtwey for TIME
Others, Michael Conner
– – –

Next week- Part IV – “Faruq”

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