Remembering 9/11: TSO Valyria Lewis answers call to serve following attacks

September 11, 2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the devastating attacks that forever changed the course of American history.  Our members reflect on the impact  that day had on them both  personally and professionally. Valyria Lewis recalls watching the attacks on television as a stay-at-home and subsequently deciding to join the newly created Transportation Security Administration. Lewis currently is a Transportation  Security Officer at the Memphis International Airport and president of AFGE Local 555.

TSO Valyria Lewis

On September 11, 2001, I was a fulltime stay at home mom. I remember waking up with my then-11 month old. I turned the TV to the Today Show on NBC, which was the only grownup show I had a chance to sneak a peek at before my baby took over the television. While rocking and nursing my baby, I watched as the anchors commented on the fire burning in the World Trade Center. Speculation varied on how the fire actually started. Minutes later, during the live broadcast, I watched as the 2nd aircraft crashed into the 2nd tower. Un-be-lievable.

I watched in shock and disbelief as the anchors announced that they believed that we were under attack, that America was under attack. I was in total shock. The thought of being attacked on American soil was unthinkable. No words, no feelings — just numb with disbelief. I wasn’t afraid; neither was I worried. I simply was at a loss for words or even any idea as to “how” this could ever happen in the United States of America. I watched helplessly, as each tower fell aimlessly one by one. It was only then that I realized the multitude of lives lost in the twin towers alone. Firemen, police officers, EMT workers — I watched some go into buildings, only to never come out. I watched all day as the FAA worked tirelessly to ground all flights in the U.S. I spent the entire day and night in front of my TV as more news broke about the attack on the Pentagon and then the United Airlines flight that crashed over Pennsylvania.

On Jan. 30, 2005, I took the oath and joined the ranks of airport screeners (now officers) at the Transportation Security Administration. After taking the oath, my class was shown a Power Point slide with photos of the events of 9/11, set to the patriotic song “God Bless the U.S.A.” It wasn’t until then that I realized how much I was affected by the catastrophic events of 9/11. I cried uncontrollably as I helplessly watched victims scrambling and doing the unthinkable to escape the blaze. I empathized with American citizens as they mourned the loss of their loved ones. It was in that moment that I adopted the slogan “Not On My Watch” and embraced the oath that I had just taken wholeheartedly: “To Protect and Defend the United States Against All Enemies both Foreign and Domestic.”

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