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Vandenberg instructor joined military early in response to 9/11 attacks

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Tech. Sgt. Timothy Tichawa, a 533rd Training Squadron instructor, poses for a photo here Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011. Originally, Tichawa committed to join the Air Force in February 2002, but after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he had his entry date moved up to Sept. 24, 2001. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jerry E. Clemens, Jr.)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Tech. Sgt. Timothy Tichawa, a 533rd Training Squadron instructor, poses for a photo here Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011. Originally, Tichawa committed to join the Air Force in February 2002, but after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he had his entry date moved up to Sept. 24, 2001. (U.S. Air Force photo/Jerry E. Clemens, Jr.)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- As the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks approaches, many Americans will reminisce about that fateful September day and the influence it has had on their lives. Tech. Sgt. Timothy Tichawa, a 533rd Training Squadron instructor, remembers this about Sept. 11, 2001:

Tichawa was asleep in the bedroom of his home in Sycamore, Ill., when the phone rang. On the other line, his mother, who was at Lackland Air Force Base awaiting the graduation of his brother (now Staff Sgt. Todd Tichawa) from Basic Military Training, anxiously informed him about a commercial plane that had crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York City, N.Y.

"I thought, what in the world is going on," Tichawa said inquisitively.

Out of bed and scrambling around his room, Tichawa found a remote and powered up his television. Instantaneously, due to a dense media presence in New York City, he was seeing images of smoke rolling out of the World Trade Center's north tower. A brief moment later, Tichawa witnessed live coverage of a second plane crashing into the south tower.

"I turned on the TV and watched the second plane hit," he said. "As they were showing the story, I actually saw it happen."

Suddenly, Tichawa was overwhelmed by a plethora of mixed emotions. The day's happenings became transparent - the incidents did not happen by coincidence. America was being attacked.

"I was in utter shock," said Tichawa, who is a native of Genoa, Ill. "Once Sept. 11 happened, I wanted in the military as soon as possible."

Compelled to take action, Tichawa made contact with his Air Force recruiter the next day to request expediting his entry as an active-duty member. At this time, he had already been slated to enter the Air Force as an explosive ordnance disposal technician in February 2002. Tichawa was then informed he could begin his Air Force career early under one condition; he would have to sacrifice his chosen career path as an EOD technician for another career field based solely on the Air Force's needs.

"I didn't care what I was going to do as a military occupation; I just wanted to be in the military at that point," he said.

Less than two weeks later, on Sept. 24, 2001, Tichawa was an Airman-in-training and attached to a military training squadron at Lackland Air Force, Texas. He then received subsequent technical training to serve as a firefighter.

"I was excited," Tichawa said. "I knew that the military was where I needed to be."

Within one year of graduating Basic Military Training, Tichawa was deployed to Pakistan for a four month assignment attached to a small expeditionary fire department. He and his fellow firefighters helped build the forward operating base there in response to the U.S. military's actions following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.

In 2007, Tichawa decided to cross train into another Air Force career field.

"I was either going to be a fireman or I was going to stay in the military, but I didn't want to do both anymore," he said. "So I decided I would stay in the military."

Tichawa hung up his firefighting garments and helmet to become an Air Force space operator, specializing in the realm of Space Based Infrared Systems.

Now, nearly 10 years later and three overseas deployments under his belt, Tichawa is proud of his decision to be a part of the military and has no intentions of leaving the service, he said.

"I'm going to continue to fight the good fight," Tichawa said in reference to supporting the Air Force mission. "I'm going to try my best to become a chief master sergeant in the Air Force and take care of the enlisted force."

For more stories about the how 9/11 affected other Team Vandenberg members, visit the 30th Space Wing Facebook page.