115th Fighter Wing commander says Sept. 11 changed what it means to serve

Col. Bart Van Roo, commander of the 115th Fighter Wing, recounts the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Col. Bart Van Roo, commander of the 115th Fighter Wing, recounts the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.(WMTV)
Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 4:17 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The commander of the 115th Fighter Wing has watched his unit change over two decades, since the attacks on September 11.

In 2001, Col. Bart Van Roo, the Wisconsin Air National Guard unit’s commander, was a brand new lieutenant. He remembered the morning of Sept. 11, when four planes were hijacked and used in terrorist attacks, hitting the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and crashing in Pennsylvania.

“It was kind of a big day for me,” he said. “I was up, actually, eating cereal, waiting to come into work, and [I turned] on the news and the first plane had already hit the tower.”

“The first thing I thought once we knew it wasn’t just an accident after the first [attack] was how this would change my life and what the actual commitment is. Then, especially being new to being a frontline pilot, I knew that likely it would really change what we’re doing on a daily basis,” he said.

The 115th Fighter Wing revived its 1960s and ‘70s-era alert status, which to this day, means the unit is always ready to respond to threats. Plus, the commander said international commitment grew like never before.

“We’ve done about nine deployments overseas, and they’re significant chunks of time, three to four months and all over the world. And that’s just something that our guardsmen in the last generation never had to do,” he said.

He continued, the expectation for newly enlisted service members is to go overseas “a couple times during their career.” This, he said, has also changed since Sept. 11.

The commander also spoke about the attacks as a big reason why people joined the military. But that only lasted for the first decade, he said. Now, many of those enlisting were born around 2001, and it has been up to older pilots at Truax Field to share the impact of the historic moment.

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