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In their own words: William Walker

The former vice director of athletics at Air Force is also a 1983 graduate of the Academy. He is currently the director of athletics at American University.

The applications to the academy went way up in the first few years after 9/11. That day certainly had an impact on the kids who were here. It changed the way we look at our jobs.

The traditional role of the Air Force evolved into a special-operations type of mission and counter-insurgency. It immediately changed the mindset of the Cadets. The kids absolutely know what they are getting into when they decide to come here. They know it is a different type of Air Force than when I was a Cadet and graduated. These guys know they will be deploying a lot and that will be tough on their families. This is a much more expeditionary Air Force than it was. It’s been that way since 9/11, and everyone who comes here knows that.

I graduated in 1983. I was on the wrestling team. Before I came to the academy (as an administrator) – and I had just gotten here when 9/11 happened – I was a commander of the First Helicopter Squadron out at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C. I flew twin-engine Huey helicopters. When the Pentagon was hit, it was near the helipad. I landed on that helipad literally hundreds of times.

When 9/11 happened, I wanted to do more than I was able to in Colorado Springs. My unit did a tremendous job, and I was very proud to see how they did on that day. My unit was there for immediate-response support for national security and continuity of operations plans. You felt helpless being here at that time. I knew so many people doing so many things that day.

I remember on 9/11 that I went for a run that morning. I was going back into the gym. I heard something on the radio about a plane that just crashed into the World Trade Center. I thought I remember hearing that it was a Cessna plane. I remember thinking that it was pretty weird for something like that to happen. It was still big news. I just couldn’t figure out how a Cessna could be that far off course. Then when the reports started coming out that it was an airliner, and then the second one hit. I went into the athletics director’s office.

We had the television on, and we just stood there watching. I saw some helicopters from my unit flying around in the background on some of the news reports. It was a helpless feeling not being able to contribute.

The academy was locked down. This is a huge tourist attraction. That changed instantly. We couldn’t let people on the base, and that had a huge impact on the academy and the athletics department. That’s the minor stuff.

As far as the Cadets went, 9/11 was the topic in every single class, whether it was chemistry or softball. We were all breaking in new ground. Everyone knew they had a serious commitment. Those Cadets all wanted to step up to the plate.

We had a huge increase in applications the next few years. My generation wasn’t around when Pearl Harbor happened. From hearing my parents talk, I know people were mad that we got violated and everyone wanted to step up.