A Change of Plans: 9/11 Reflections

In September of 2001, I was the Criminal Justice Program Chair for American Military University. Mr. Tom Corbitt was the Marketing Director for American Military University Public Safety Programs and we worked closely together through the fall of 2000 and into 2001 as the Criminal Justice Program was growing.

In late July of 2001, Tom mentioned that we should attended the “Cops West” convention in Los Angeles, CA and use our new university display booth at the convention center to showcase the criminal justice program to the west coast law enforcement community. Since we were going to be in Los Angeles for The “Cops West” event, I used my law enforcement contacts, and by August, 2001, Tom and I had an appointment with the LAPD command staff for September 12, 2001, to present the AMU online criminal justice undergraduate and graduate degree programs and highlight some of our outstanding faculty that teach in our programs.

Tom handled the travel and lodging arrangements. Tom made arrangements for us to fly on American Airlines Flight 77 leaving on September 11, 2001, from Washington Dulles International Airport in VA, to Los Angeles International Airport. This would allow us prep time to set up for the “Cops West” event and be on time for our meeting with the LAPD command staff. We were both excited about the trip and I had made plans for us to have dinner after we arrived with some LA County Sheriff deputies that I know.

Change of Plans

On September 3, 2001, Tom called me into his office, because there had been a change of plans for the meeting with the LAPD command staff. Tom told me that the new meeting was set for September 11, 2001, and that he made arrangements to change our flight and hotel plans. Instead of leaving from Dulles Washington International Airport, we could get a discounted flight if we left from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and flew on September 10, 2001. I told Tom, that this was fine with me. Tom grinned that big smile he has, and said “I know, I already booked the new flight and canceled our old travel plans.”

Tom and I flew out of Ronald Regan Washington National Airport on the morning of September 10, 2001. The paid parking lots were all full. Tom called a friend at the Pentagon he worked with in the military, to see if we could park across the street in their parking lot. Tom’s friend met us at the gate and we were able to park my truck in the Pentagon parking lot. We grabbed our gear and luggage and caught the bus back to the airport across the street (I-395). We had no issues at the airport and our flight took off on time. We landed in LA, dropped our gear and luggage at our hotel, and met up with my deputy friends for dinner.

Tuesday Morning September 11, 2001

The next morning was Tuesday September 11, 2001. My body was still on east coast time which is 3 hours ahead of west coast LA time. I was up early, and logged into my AMU laptop to check on my classes and students. I turned on the news after I was finished checking on my students and just laid back knowing it was early morning in LA. Tom was still asleep in the next hotel room. I was watching CNN, when the news story broke in New York City about an airliner crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. As I was watching the live news coverage, I saw the second plane crash into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Immediately, I knew something was up and we were under attack when the second plane hit.

I called Tom’s room and woke him up. I told Tom what was going on, turn on the news, take a shower, and come to my room. I then jumped into the shower and got dressed, and continued watching the news. A short time later Tom knocked on my hotel bedroom door and I let him into my room to watch the news with me. We continued to watch the news, knowing that whatever plains we had in LA for the day, were now scrubbed.

Tom and I kept watching the news and we felt helpless. I called my wife Lori, who was at work in Washington, DC. She was the Director of Training for a fortune 500 company and worked just three blocks from the White House. She told me everyone was aware of the events in New York City and they were watching the news as well from her office conference room. I told her to be safe, and I would call her back when Tom and I made a new game plan.

As we continued to watch the news coverage from my room, the story switched to Washington, DC and reports that the Pentagon was also struck by an airliner. I told Tom, I have to call my wife, I want her out of downtown Washington now, because more attacks will more than likely occur. It was now clear we were experiencing an organized attack on our country. As I was talking with my wife, she told me that all traffic was stopped in DC, and that her and co-workers would start walking out of downtown, DC in hopes of catching any type of transportation back to Maryland and our home. I could tell my wife was upset but she also knows how to put on a game face in emergencies and told me she was safe with her co-workers and they were all sticking together.

Realizing Fate Had Passed Us By

As the news continued about the attacks and what they were learning about the Pentagon, Tom jumped up from his chair in front of the TV, and said I will be right back, I got to show you something. Tom came back to my room a few minutes later. Tom had a blank look on his face, and was holding airline boarding tickets in his hand. Tom just past me the tickets and said look at the flight. It took me a minute to realize that Tom had just passed me tickets for our seats on American Airlines Flight 77 and this was the flight that had just crashed into the Pentagon. If plans would not have changed for the LAPD command staff meeting, we would have been on the flight that crashed into the Pentagon.

I am not sure if it was luck or fate, but after taking a few minutes for the reality to set in that a meeting changed our fate, it was sobering. Both Tom and I were both former Army paratroopers and we did not dwell on our luck because we knew our fellow citizens in NYC, DC, and PA had perished in the terrorist attacks.

Tom and I called our LAPD point of contact to let them know we understand the meeting is canceled and headed over to the Cops West venue to see if we could be of help to any of the first responders that had gathered. The good people in LA were already lining up to donate blood. Everywhere we looked, people were putting up American Flags. Without saying so, Tom and I knew our country was now at War.

I was finally able to get ahold of my wife in the evening of 9/11. It took her six hours to get home, but she was safe with our daughters. My prayers were answered. My wife asked me what we were planning to do. Our plans in LA were now on hold, and we just learned that all air travel was suspended until further notice. I had no new game plan as of yet.

Finding Our Way Home

Tom and I did not panic, we were safe in LA. We knew we had to get back home as quick as possible, but how?

The LAPD had barricaded the entrances and had officer’s standing guard outside of the LAPD HQ’s. No one knew what attacks might happen next.

Tom and I decided to wait it out because the airlines told us that it should only be a day or so and the FAA would allow flights to resume. I knew my family was safe and during this time, that was all I needed.

We were told on Thursday September 13, 2001, that the FAA was going to allow flights starting on Friday September 14, 2001. We were able to book a flight from LA, but it was going to land at BWI. The FAA closed Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport because they wanted no civilian aircraft entering DC airspace for the time being.

I called my wife and told her the plans, flight times, and flight number.

Friday September 14, 2001, Tom and I were at the airport early knowing that things could change. Our flight was on time so we made it through security and were waiting at our gate to board. Every gate had a plane parked and other planes were parked all along the airport runways because no one was flying yet. We were the first plane scheduled to fly out that morning from LA. As we waited for the boarding call we saw the flight crew approach. They were all wearing red, white, and blue. The passengers stood up and started to cheer. You could see the flight crew get emotional and thanked everyone.

Tom and I were standing near the front of the line. Now Tom, is a big man. 6-2, 225 lbs of muscle. He could easily pass for an NFL linebacker. I was sporting my crew cut and probably looked like I was still a cop or prior military. The pilot and co-pilot stopped when they saw us. The pilot asked us if we were flying on his plane today, and we both said, “Yes Sir!”, at the same time. He then asked us, because Tom physical appearance, if we would sit at the front of the plane because he told us no matter what, no one is coming into the cockpit for any reason and he wanted to make sure someone had his flight crews six. Tom and I both knew he was prior military and speaking our language. The pilot walked us up to the booking agent and gave them orders to change our seats to the front and he wanted us sitting in the same row on the isle seats to block anyone trying to enter the cockpit.

As the plane was boarding it was quiet. Everyone was a little shaky. As the plane left the ground the passengers broke into a cheer. It was a good flight but I never saw anyone take a nap. As the plane touched down in Baltimore the passengers once again cheered. Somehow it was relief being on the first flight out of LA after 9/11. My wife met Tom and me at the Airport. Tom was able to make arrangements with a friend to meet him and drive him back to his home in VA.

Picking Up My Truck at the Pentagon

The next morning was Saturday September 15, 2001. Lori drove me down to the Pentagon to see if we could retrieve my truck. I had no idea if it was damaged in the attack. After showing my ID, I was escorted to my truck. It was the first time that I saw the Pentagon damage live. To say I was shocked is an understatement. I found my truck with the officer and it was undamaged. I thanked the officer and told him to be safe. He told me he had about 8 hours sleep since Tuesday. He told me he was on duty last Tuesday when the plane hit. He was on the opposite side of the building that the plane struck and helped evacuate occupants. He told me he was lucky. I was able to drive my truck out of the lot with my escort leading the way.

Returning to Work

In 2001, AMU was still a small university and everyone knew each other. We were family with a vision to serve those who serve our nation in uniform. Tom and I received plenty of hugs and there were some tears of joy that everyone was safe from our small AMU family. There was not a lot of time to sit around. The majority of our students were military and we were busy working out flexible study times knowing that they were gearing up to take the fight to the enemy.

I look back on that time and like everyone else, we will remember where we were when we learned that our country was attacked and we will never forget the innocent lives lost that horrific day.

I realized that fate had a different plan for Tom and me on 9/11.

The Road Ahead

Tom has since moved on from AMU, and works as a DOD civilian in Europe, married to the love of his life, and is thankful for new start. Tom is one of the hardest workers and most loyal people I know. I am lucky to have Tom as a friend.

My blessing has been my first-responder and military students. To continue to have the honor to serve those who serve our nation in uniform has been a gift to me. To be able to serve both the police and military communities with their educational needs has been a dream come true. I say a prayer for all the 9/11 victims and their families. I will never forget!

I also remember my learning partners (military students) in my classes who have fallen in battle since 9/11 fighting the War on Terrorism. These are my heroes that provide us with the blanket of freedom and security. I continue to be humbled and honored that I still work with our warrior scholars who truly are the tip of the spear that protects us from evil. This is my calling and I love my students.

We will Never Forget 9/11!

God Bless the United States of America.

About the Author

Mark Bond

Dr. Mark Bond has worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms instructor for more than 32 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in criminal justice, and M.Ed in educational leadership with Summa Cum Laude honors. Mark has a doctoral degree in education (EdD) with a concentration in college teaching and learning.  Mark is currently an associate professor of criminal justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a community college.