HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — The attacks on 9/11 and the war on terror have left an indelible imprint on the Hampton Roads military community that prevails to this day. They amped up the stress on military families, led to base fortifications and forced changes in weapons and tactics.
Double-digit deployments, base gates watched by soldiers and sailors with automatic weapons, and keeping pace with enemies who were becoming more and more sophisticated all became both necessary and commonplace.
A retired admiral who used to live on Naval Station Norfolk says the changes came quickly.
“The physical security was one of the immediate manifestations of the result of 9/11,” said Craig Quigley, executive director of the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance.
Gone were the days when military families or the media could go right up to a ship for a homecoming.
“[Prior to 9/11] you could literally say I will meet you at the foot of Pier 10 — and there you go, directly with your van and nobody stops you at the gate. There wasn’t anybody at the gate. How the world has changed,” he said.
We began battling enemies without uniforms and without countries, and it called for our region to become more specialized, more surgical.
“You (started to) see a greatly increased special ops presence in Hampton Roads. They’ve been here for decades, but the sheer numbers of personnel that are stationed here now are much larger after 9/11.”
Jason Redman of Chesapeake was attached to an East Coast SEAL Team when he was wounded in battle in Iraq in 2007.
“As the years went by, after I was wounded I watched my teammates where deployment cycles changed where, last minute, they’d shift things around and they became longer,” Redman said. “I had buddies that ended up doing an almost year-long deployment. I have friends that have done over a dozen combat deployments, and that grind on both the individual and family is immense.”
After Al Qaeda leveled the Twin Towers, rammed the Pentagon, and killed dozens more in a Pennsylvania field, Jason’s wife Erica knew the stakes were much higher.
“Everything changed. After 9/11, these were no longer training trips. These were combat operations,” she said, and recalls how unpredictable life had become.
“We scheduled a flight to go to his sister’s wedding in St. Croix for just a couple weeks when he would have been returning, and I knew. I knew that we were not going on that trip.”
The war on terror also forced the Pentagon and Hampton Roads to reload with different weapons.
No more slow moving A-10s or armed drones that could be shot out of the sky. Fighter jets such as the F-22s at Langley Air Force Base and the F-35s aboard the USS George Washington became the state of the art.
“When they fly away or sail away, I don’t know when they’re gonna be back. When the mission’s done, and the next relief is available,” Quigley said. “So that has added stress to families and stress to service members that was not there before 9/11.”
Redman points to carrier groups that are on standby with what’s going on right now in Afghanistan.
“So obviously that suddenly changes for everybody who lives in this area. Hey. dad’s not coming home or mom’s not coming home because suddenly that changed,” Redman said.
Quigley says the war on terror has affected military recruiting as well. He says people considering the military as a career need to realize the unpredictability, and determine whether they can thrive in that kind of lifestyle.