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9/11 changed us all, and MacDill's prominence

Nov. 22, 1963. Last row on the right. Eighth grade. Fourteen years old. The voice over the intercom was Sister Mary Peter informing us that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. School dismissed.

By the time I walked home, my mother, a devoted Republican who had voted for Richard Nixon, was sobbing in front of the television. JFK. Camelot. "Ask not …" All now a dead memory.

Sept. 11, 2001. Working at home. Handyman painting the family room. We stood together in stunned silence watching one tower collapse. Then the other. Witnesses to history. Witnesses to mass murder. Witnesses to the beginning of a changed America, a changed Tampa.

All generations have their touchstone moments when we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing at historical turning points. Pearl Harbor. The death of Franklin Roosevelt. V-E Day. The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. The murder of Martin Luther King. Bobby.

Perhaps the horrific events of 9/11 have so persistently resonated for the past 10 years because all of us, from every corner of the country, were given an unwitting front row seat to the carnage, the fear, the anger of this most infamous of days. We all share the trauma. And we have all shared the retribution.

Where to begin the manifest remaking of our lives and communities over the past decade? Where to begin? Right here is probably a good place.

MacDill Air Force Base always has been an intrinsic part of the community fabric. At one time, the place was crawling with fighter jets. There were dark hints of aircraft armed with nukes ever ready to take on the "Evil Empire" and thus turn the Cold War into something considerably warmer.

But for the most part, pre-9/11, it is probably not unfair to suggest that MacDill, while certainly a proud player in the national defense, was more prized as a vast money machine critical to the area's economic health.

When, during the 1990s, there was talk of base closures, the community's political and private-sector intelligentsia launched an all-out campaign to save the base as much for its economic value as its presence as a defensive bulwark should the Cuban navy sail up Tampa Bay to occupy Davis Islands.

All of that changed on the morning of 9/11.

Within minutes, MacDill Air Force Base, home to the U.S. Central Command, emerged as the epicenter of the war on terror. The strategic plans for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were undertaken here.

MacDill was no longer just an economic gravy train for Tampa. It was the place were unheralded men and women engaged in unspoken missions to treat an unending national heartbreak.

With the exception of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, chances are that before 9/11 few of us could name CentCom's commanding officer. Post-9/11 Gens. Tommy Franks, John Abizaid and certainly David Petraeus became household names.

Tampa Bay has long had an obsessive preoccupation with achieving "major league" status in pursuing professional sports franchises, the thinking being that if the community isn't part of the NFL or the NHL or Major League Baseball that somehow we are wanting in prestige.

Since 9/11, MacDill Air Force Base has been at the forefront in the global war on terrorism. Its men and women in uniform have served this country and died for its citizens to right one of history's most horrendous wrongs.

You can't get more major league than that.

9/11 changed us all, and MacDill's prominence 09/10/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 10, 2011 4:31am]
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