9/11 Memories from Guam: USO Pacific leader recalls one of America’s darkest days

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Outgoing commander Brig. Gen. Charles K. Hyde says goodbye to airmen of the 86th Airlift Wing at a change of command ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, June 10, 2013. (Photo by Michael Abrams, Stars and Stripes)
Outgoing commander Brig. Gen. Charles K. Hyde says goodbye to airmen of the 86th Airlift Wing at a change of command ceremony at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, June 10, 2013. (Photo by Michael Abrams, Stars and Stripes)

9/11 Memories from Guam: USO Pacific leader recalls one of America’s darkest days

by: Leigh Leilani Graham, USO Guam Area Director | .
USO Guam | .
published: September 08, 2017
In early September, 2001, US Air Force pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Charles K. “C.K.” Hyde – then serving as assistant operations offer for the 517th Airlift Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base Alaska – flew the long journey across the Pacific via Hawaii and the remote Kwajalein Atoll to the island of Guam.  His mission was to serve as Mission Commander for the United States C-130 Hercules (four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft) units participating in the 2001 Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) Airlift Rally. The Airlift Rally is a PACAF-sponsored military airlift symposium held every two years for allied countries in the Pacific region, and sixteen years ago, Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base served as host.
 
On arrival, Hyde and his team went straight to work focusing on inter-flies, flight profiles, and sharing techniques with allied air forces. The priority of the rally was to work on tactical airlift combat operations with emphasis on engine running and combat offloads, air drop, and night vision goggle sorties. 
 
The trip to Guam held a personal highlight for Hyde as well. He was looking forward to reconnecting with his roommate from the U.S. Air Force Academy class of 1987.  His longtime friend was living on Guam and flying for Continental Airlines. The morning of Tuesday, 9/11, on Guam – at approximately 9 PM New York time on 9/10 – the two former cadet colleagues grabbed their snorkeling gear and headed to Gab Gab Beach on Naval Base Guam to enjoy a few hours perusing Guam’s coral reefs.
 
After lunch with his roommate’s family, Hyde headed back up the island’s main road - Marine Corps Drive - to Andersen Air Force Base lodge to prep for a night mission. Just after sunset he flew a night vision goggle flight as a stand-up instructor on an Australian aircraft, and then returned to the lodge for the evening.
 
Hyde was sitting in his room close to midnight reading a book when the phone rang. One of his crew members asked if he was watching TV and Hyde replied to the negative. The caller reported that American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.  Hyde quickly turned on the TV just in time to catch the live coverage of the second attack on the World Trade Center’s South Tower.
 
“As military people, after the second aircraft crashed into the World Trade Center, we instantly knew what was up,” recalls Hyde. “We immediately got together in one of my aircraft commander’s rooms, and watched together through the early morning hours as the buildings collapsed, ” recalls Hyde.
 
Collectively, the crewmembers knew the next sequence of events would happen rapidly, but had no assurance as to how they would unfold. All Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air space was closed, including Guam, and the remainder of the exercise was cancelled..  Like everyone else across America, they watched TV together and the rapidly unfolding events.
  
The answer came quickly. On 9/12 Guam time Hyde and his team received orders to immediately return home to Alaska, and they started to prepare. They packed everything on their C-130, and Hyde gathered his crew for a short memorial service aboard the aircraft.
 
Standing behind the flight station at the back of the airplane with the ramp open, Hyde and his crew held a moment of silence, he said a few words of remembrance and prayer for the victims and families, under the backdrop of an American flag hung by a loadmaster in the cargo compartment. This gesture became an enduring memory for Hyde in the years to come. During combat tours in the C-130 Hercules in Afghanistan and Iraq, there was always an American flag flying in the back of the plane. 
 
The plane then headed down the runway and lifted just above the cliffs of northern Guam headed towards Yokota, Japan, where they would catch the jet stream to Elmendorf. They were headed home. As the journey back across the Pacific began, Hyde recalls that everyone onboard knew what this meant for them. “In all likelihood, from that point forward, we were probably heading home and then eventually to war.” 
 
Hyde vividly remembers the descent back into Elmendorf as eerie. Most commercial and civilian aviation was grounded and the skies were empty.  Only upon arriving at Elmendorf was there a beehive of activity.
 
The prophetic thoughts of war rang true. Shortly after Thanksgiving, Hyde received a call asking if he would be “willing to move on short notice? We’re sending you back to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, as Commander of the 39th Airlift Squadron—a unit already partially deployed to the combat zone.”
 
Hyde’s next call was to his wife, Jodie. When she answered, he asked if she was sitting down, she simply replied, “Where are we going?” The couple and their two young sons packed their household goods and then spent Christmas in a temporary lodging facility at McChord Air Force Base, Washington, en route to Dyess.
 
Over the next few years, Hyde would command the 320th Expeditionary Operations Group in Southwest Asia, serve as Vice Commander of the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia, and command the 314th Airlfit Wing at Little Rock AFB, AR, and the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. He would rise to the rank of Brigadier General to serve as the senior US military officer in Canada.  He retired from active service in 2015. 
 
In December 2015, Hyde began his next career at Regional Vice President (RVP) for the United Service Organizations (USO) Pacific Region. As Regional Vice President, he provides leadership and resources to more than 1,000 staff and volunteers across the Pacific and strategic direction to 21 USO Centers in Hawaii, Guam, Okinawa, mainland Japan, and Korea. 
 
Under his guidance, the USO-Pacific strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation.  The USO-Pacific delivers innovative programs, entertainment, and recreational activities enjoyed by over 1,200,000 service members and their families each year.
 
A key priority for Hyde was to increase USO’s presence on Guam to better serve more military and families. In late September 2017, Hyde will travel back to Guam to join 36th Wing Commander, Brigadier General Douglas Cox in opening one of USO’s newest centers -  USO Andersen. Located in Andersen’s “Top Of The Rock” building, the new facility will provide a welcoming environment for the installations’ 8,100 service members and families in addition to USMC personnel and families who will arrive in the coming years.
 
Hyde still keeps the notes he made to himself to deliver that first, short memorial ceremony for the 9/11 victims and the United States of America prior to departing Andersen Air Force Base so many years ago. He keeps them tucked in a family Bible as a reminder of the day that prompted the country’s commitment to a War On Terror. He is nostalgic at the thought of returning to Andersen sixteen years later – almost to the day – to open a new USO center. 
 
“The first time I returned to Guam since 9/11 was when I came to represent USO Pacific in celebration of USO’s 75th Anniversary on 4 February of 2016. I couldn’t help but remember the last time I was on Guam and the significance of what happened so many years ago.” says Hyde. “It is encouraging to see the steadfast contributions of Guam to our national security and its importance in today’s volatile military environment in the Pacific.  It is rewarding to witness the support of Guam’s people for our service members and their families.”
 
To present day military members serving in the wake of 9/11, Hyde’s message is one of heartfelt pride and commendation.
 
“Most of our current military entered service after 9/11. These patriotic Americans volunteered in a time of war. I entered the U.S. Air Force in a time of peace. Every one of the men and women who have entered since 9/11 did so knowing they would most likely serve in Afghanistan or Iraq,” says Hyde. “They are a unique generation, they like different music than I do, and they are digitally savvy. They are, however, every bit as patriotic and brave as their parents and grandparents who served before them. They have nothing but my utmost respect and gratitude.” 
 
“USO Andersen represents the American people’s and the USO’s commitment to “always be by their side.” Whether in Guam, Hawaii, Japan, Korea, Okinawa or expeditionary locations such as Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, USO Pacific is the force behind the world’s best military force.”