WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Today marks the 16th anniversary of 9/11, a day that changed countless lives forever.
Almost 3,000 people were killed in 2001, when hijackers flew planes into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
In honor of the anniversary of the attacks, McConnell Air Force Base took part in a memorial flight. KSN’s Amanda Aguilar flew with members of the United States Air Force on a KC-135 tanker.
The KC-135 tanker played a huge role on 9/11.
WATCH: U.S. Air Force member reflects on 16th anniversary
Lt. Col. Joseph Markusfeld remembers the day well. He was at home watching the news, when he saw the first plane hit the Twin Towers.
“When the second airplane hit, just like everyone else, I knew what had happened and I came into work,” recalled Markusfeld.
From there, the squadron commander brought members into the auditorium and said, “We are at war. Go home. Go into crew rest.”
Those that did not go into crew rest prepared the aircrafts to launch.
Markusfeld returned to McConnell Air Force Base later that evening.
“At 11 o’clock at night, about 23:23, I launched on 9/11 into a dark and empty sky with no one else out there on my way to a combat air patrol over Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Markusfeld and other Air Force members took to the sky in a KC-135 tanker, one of the first aircraft in the sky after the September 11 attacks.
“Within our aircraft, we were actually discussing if we were called upon to do so, to prevent another terrorist attack, how we would sacrifice our aircraft in order to prevent another attack,” he said.
The KC-135 is a military refueling aircraft.
According to Markusfeld, it’s the backbone of the U.S. Air Force refueling fleet.
“What’s really extraordinary about it is that it has a unique capability, not to the U.S. Air Force, but one that we exploit the best,” Markusfeld said.
As he reflected back on his experience, Markusfeld said the war could not have been fought without the KC-135 tanker.
“The KC-135 is instrumental to the reason the United States rules the sky,” he said. “That we maintain absolute air dominance over all of our combat operations.”
Markusfeld was later put on one of five crews selected as the initial Response Strike Team to support the strikes in Afghanistan. He remembers telling his wife goodbye and not being able to talk to her for a month.
The lieutenant colonel said the amount of patriotism the Wichita community showed during the attacks, helped crews remember what they were fighting for.
“We got out there to do a job,” said Markusfeld. “We were not going to let this stand.”
For Markusfeld and others at McConnell Air Force Base, the 9/11 memorial flight served as a reminder that many of their crews are still out there fighting.