A native of Metairie, Maj. René Poché has not served in Iraq or Afghanistan -- the war on terror came to him. Poché was inside the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, when a hijacked plane flown by suicidal terrorists crashed into the military complex at Washington D.C.
Back in New Orleans, Poché's family watched the tragedies of 9/11 unfold on television. "My wife and 10-year-old daughter were watching the news of the Pentagon on fire," Poché recalls. "And because all the phone lines were jammed, I couldn't get through to tell them I was OK. It had to be the longest three hours of my life."
On that morning, he was in Washington with the top four leaders of the 926th Fighter Wing. "We walked into an office and saw a television and the World Trade Center towers smoldering from where the two planes had hit," Poché recalls. Unaware that a third hijacked jetliner was heading their way, Poché and his superior officers proceeded to a conference room. "We were about five minutes into our meeting. And there was a loud boom. The building shook and we rocked in our chairs." The plane slammed into the Army-Navy sector, directly across the Pentagon from where the 926th was meeting.
Poché's group quickly joined hundreds of evacuees fleeing through Pentagon hallways and downstairs into the Metro subway station. They eventually climbed up a set of subway stairs emerging on a street outside the Pentagon. They escaped unhurt. "We wanted to help but we were told to go by security personnel," he says. The airmen recognized the smell of jet fuel from the crash. "I will never forget, I looked over my shoulder and saw a black cloud over the Pentagon," he says.
"But all my wife knew was that I was in the Pentagon," he continues. "In fact, she was having the air-conditioner repaired that day. And she told the repairman where I was. The AC guy called his shop and said, Take me off the clock. I gotta stay with this woman until she finds out about her husband.'"
After the attacks, all air traffic was grounded nationwide. The top command of the 926th Fighter Wing group drove back to New Orleans in a rented car. "We had all the senior leaders of this Wing in a Pontiac Bienville," Poché says, smiling slightly. "I was sitting on the hump in the front seat. And they were running the Wing by cell phone. I was with four fighter pilots with years of combat experience -- from Vietnam through Desert Storm -- and they were fired up, to say the least. We had 17 jets back home, all A-10 tank killers." In April 2002, the 926th deployed their A-10s for targets in Afghanistan. Now a 21-year veteran airman, Poché waits for the call to war along with more than 1,000 reserves assigned to the 926th. "We are always ready to go," he says.