9/11, 20 years later: President Bush addresses the nation from Barksdale AFB

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BOSSIER CITY, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – They are everlasting words spoken by our country’s 43rd President.

“Freedom was attacked this morning by a faceless coward,” President George W. Bush said on the afternoon of September 11th, 2001. “And freedom will be defended.”

It was the first time the president addressed the nation following the morning terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the crash of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Two men, one active-duty the other retired, remember those words and how the events of that day shaped their professional lives.

“It was a possibility. That we could have been going to war,” said Charles Guillory, a retired sergeant for the Air Force Security Forces.

The current Vice Commander on Barksdale Air Force Base agrees.

“I think at that point the entire nation was preparing for war,” said Col. Joseph McKenna, Vice Commander of the 2nd Bomb Wing.

It was at 8:50 a.m. that President Bush learned of a commercial plane hitting the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

At 1:00 p.m., the Commander in Chief was on Barksdale speaking to the country after speaking with his national defense team.

“Make no mistake,” said the president. “The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.”

Guillory remembers it all, vividly.

“I was in control of all the area,” said Guillory. “All the personnel posted for the Security Forces.”

He was Sergeant Guillory on 9/11, heading up Air Force Security Forces. After the North Tower was struck, he went from aircraft to aircraft on base making sure the Security Forces members he was responsible for were briefed on what was unfolding.

Minutes later a life-changing call came.

“I got a call to return to our control center ASAP, as soon as possible,” said Guillory. “They informed me that President Bush, Air Force One would be here within 30 minutes. So you need to go out and set up security.”

In a time of unprecedented uncertainty, Guillory began securing the flight line.

“We had to secure that aircraft and make sure the president was secure here on Barksdale Air Force base,” he said. “It was eerie, because when the aircraft was landing, his two escort fighter planes, they peeled off. And it was just him landing by himself.”

Guillory was 100 feet from the nose of the aircraft when Air Force One touched down.

“When he landed he saw his resources. He saw his protection,” said Guillory.

Colonel Joseph McKenna was 1,200 miles away at a National Security Agency conference at Fort Meade in Maryland.

“It was an interesting place to be because as we were evacuating the building. We were told we were potentially a target,” said Col. McKenna. “You could see half the building evacuating quickly. But about half the people were seen running back upstairs.”

That day underscores to Col. McKenna what the importance of the NSA would eventually become in the fight against global terrorism.

McKenna was an Air Force engineer when the towers were struck. It changed the course of his life.

“I didn’t want to be sitting in a cubicle while the rest of my brothers and sisters in arms were fighting a war,” said McKenna. “It was a very easy choice. A compelling choice to seek a flying assignment.”

He’s now the Vice Commander on Barksdale having flown 35 different types of aircraft, many in combat. Col. McKenna remembers hanging on to the president’s words that day.

“Nobody really understood what the next step was going to be,” he said. “But we knew there was going to be a next step.”

Guillory says Barksdale was ready for whatever order came next.

“There was over 30 aircraft on the taxiway, on the tarmac. Sitting there fully uploaded. Ready to go if needed,” he said.

Looking back, Guillory is proud to have served his country to the best of his ability that day.

“I’m pretty proud. Pretty blessed to have taken care of him and the country at that time,” he said.

The Barksdale Global Power Museum features memorabilia from President George W. Bush’s visit and historic address to the nation from Barksdale Air Force Base but is not currently open to the public due to the base COVID restrictions.

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