Bainbridge High grad was in Navy during 9/11 attacks

Published 6:51 am Friday, September 9, 2011


Special To The Post-Searchlight

Editor’s Note: The following is a narrative submitted by a Bainbridge High School graduate who was in the U.S. Navy in 2001 and whose aircraft carrier played a crucial role in the War on Terror.

Email newsletter signup

The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was stationed on board the U.S.S. Enterprise (CVN-65) that was on station just due east of the Horn of Africa in the Arabian Sea.

Enterprise had nearly completed its six-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Southern Watch, which began in 1992. Our ship was waiting until the 13th of September to conduct its “Shell-backing Ceremony,” a sailors’ tradition that dates back thousands of years and is a rite of passage for sailors who have sailed across the equator. Once this was complete, “Big E,” as the U.S.S. Enterprise was known, was scheduled for a port call in Cape Town, South Africa, then a potential sail across the Atlantic for a stop in Rio de Janeiro on its way to home to Norfolk, Va., following another port call in Jacksonville, Fla., on the way.

I was working on the flight deck of the Enterprise as a crash and salvage technician, which is a flight deck firefighter. Our job is to rescue pilots from their crashed or disabled aircraft, shut down the aircraft and put out any residual fires that may occur due to an accident and to rescue any passengers from the aircraft.

The morning of the attacks was near evening on board Big E. Most of us were either just coming on shift or off-going and going through our handovers when the door flew open of the “Crash Shack,” known as the office where we work.

Someone shouted, “Turn on the TV, a plane just hit the WTC!” We turned on the TV to see the tower smoking and hear reporters speculate about an accidental contact from small aircraft, to other potential attacks from foreign threats. I was eating my mid-afternoon snack of Cheez-Its mixed in beef ramen noodles soup and getting ready to put on my fire retardant suit to go out on deck as we witnessed — like the rest of the world (on a few second delay as it was satellite TV) — another plane whip around the back of the south tower and crash into it. The room, which was lined on all four walls of guys in red shirts and camouflage pants, all sat silent with our jaws open, in disbelief that it happened twice. I had dropped my spoon on the floor and could hardly move. This was intentional and there was no chance of it being an accident, was all that ran through my 19-year-old mind.

We all looked round at each other and a simultaneous nod in agreement went around the room with an understanding that no one had to even say it. We knew we were not going home now. Our officer in charge confirmed what we thought and said it — call your families before they turn off the phones and let them know what we gotta do now.

The rest of the shift was filled with confusion, speculation and discussions of what people thought happened. A few crew members had received the news their families may have been at the towers and were worried why they could not get in touch with them. Enterprise had been doing large long slow circles to prepare for the equator crossing but had been heading east awaiting any orders from the top brass back home. Later that afternoon it was announced that we would be returning to the Arabian Gulf, in response to the attacks that morning. The captain, James Winnefeld Jr., announced over the ship’s P.A. system that the president had just called and ordered us back to the Gulf. Shortly after, we all felt the ship make a big strong non-mistakable turn to port and we began to steam north with purpose.

The shell-backing ceremony and all port calls were canceled, and any chance of ever seeing Rio de Janeiro as an irresponsible adolescent was gone. Everyone was tired, beat down and ready to go home the day before the attacks. But after the attacks, there was no mistake to be made about it. There was nowhere else anyone wanted to be and we were ready to take the fight back to the person, or persons, responsible for attacking our country. There was a new buzz around the decks and the energy was exciting. We were like always — ready on arrival!

Once back on station in the Gulf, everyone was still trying to come to terms with what had happened that morning in New York. News had been developing that crew members had lost loved ones in the towers; a few officers on board had known civilians and ranking officers killed in the Pentagon attack. No one was affected by the crash of Flight 93, but people were inspired by the bravery of the people who thwarted the attack of another U.S. building (presumably the White House) and it motivated us even more to carry out our duties.

Phone calls were not allowed to be private, and our chiefs (upper management) had duties of sitting at the phones and monitoring the phone calls back home to ensure operational security was not being compromised. Of course, CNN was still putting on the television exactly where our battle group was operating.

Even emails home could not be sent from personal accounts; they had to be sent to our chiefs, proofread, and then forwarded to our family members from them. The magnitude of the situation was an intense transition from the past five months filled with happiness and freedom, and a port call literally every two weeks since the ship hit the Mediterranean including ports like Palma, Spain, Cannes, France, Lisbon Portugal, Naples, Italy, Suda bay, Crete, Jebel Ali Dubai. Those times were over — it was all business now and when supplies started arriving we saw just how serious it was.

Supply ships began arriving with massive bunkers buster, JDAM, AMRAAM missiles, and cluster bomb units being delivered by helicopter on board. The amount of ordinance was overwhelming, taking several days to complete the transfers. Helicopters were being fitted with Hellfire missile armament systems, and the hangar decks that are usually for storing aircraft in need of repair were crowded with tagged bombs ready to be fitted on aircraft to be launched. The only mystery left really was — when would they be launched?

The morning of Oct. 7, 2001, nearly a year since the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, the U.S. began air strikes over Afghanistan that still give me chill bumps and I will never forget it. News had spread that flight ops would begin somewhere around mid-night — we knew what was going down and there was a crowd gathered who had worked hard to prepare that we were ready for the show!

The U.S.S. McFaul was just on the left side of Enterprise, a submarine just ahead of her but that could not be seen in the distance. It was a dark quiet night — so dark you could hardly see McFaul on a few hundred meters away. The seas were flat calm and quiet.

At the tick of the clock, the skies began to light with cruise missiles taking off from the McFaul, like shooting stars in the skies. One after the other, blinding bright lights in the night sky! Missiles from the submarine took off seemingly so close they would hit each other, and without a cue, pilots and air crew began crowding the flight deck like a football team taking the field as they to their aircraft.

Aircraft began launching with bright long burning tails of flames shooting from their exhausts, their wings loaded with so many missiles and bombs it looked like they had grape vines hanging from their wings! Crew members shouted and cheered in excitement as the officer in charge of flight ops yelled “GO!” as each aircraft launched. The enemy, like the victims of Sept. 11th, never even saw it coming!

Shortly after it all began we ran inside to turn on the televisions, reporters were already reporting the bomb blasts occurring on terrorist camps, over Kabul, Kanhdahar, and Jalallabad. You could see the cruise missiles we launched blowing up behind them, and hear the aircraft flying over head and dropping bombs one after the other — it was so exciting! All our work to avenge those that morning paying off with one explosion after the other! Crew members cheering like at a football game, and as the pilots returned to Big E they were welcomed as heroes … wings empty and hearts full of pride. People were so happy they were crying, rushing by the crew and giving high fives and helmet slaps!

Operation Southern Watch was over now and Operation Enduring Freedom had begun. None of us knew we would return in 2003 in Support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, or that 10 years later the war would still be ongoing but we knew we had brought the fight back to the enemy that brought the fight to our homes and it would never happen again.

My name is Rocky Carr and I am from the south Georgia area. I went to school in Cairo and graduated from Bainbridge High School. I am no longer in the Navy but will always be proud to have been where I was and the job we did for all of you back home then to make America safer for your future and and our children’s future.