By Darrell Todd Maurina
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Darren Eicken followed his normal routine by walking the few blocks from his home to his New York City law office in a building located just three blocks away from the World Trade Center.
Eicken had a much longer walk that afternoon after terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center. Police ordered not only his office building but also his neighborhood to be evacuated after the terrorist attacks, so Eicken had to walk through Manhattan along with large throngs of other downtown workers barred from using subways or private vehicles. Eicken was able to stay with a friend living elsewhere on Manhattan Island, but many others had no choice but to get off the island to reach their homes.
“You can compare it to the retreat of Dunkirk (in World War II),” Eicken said. “You had every vessel large or small taking people off the island.”
By the end of the day, Eicken wasn’t merely thinking about comparisons to World War II. Just as his grandfather enlisted in what was then the Army Air Corps after Pearl Harbor, Eicken began exploring how he could sign up for military service.
“I watched close to 3,000 people die and it put life in perspective,” Eicken said. “You learn very quickly after watching the Twin Towers come down that money is just not that important.”
Within a few months, Eicken was filling out the paperwork to enter the Judge Advocate General corps of the Air Force, and by June 2002, he had traded in his lawyer’s pinstripes for a camouflage uniform. Now stationed at Cannon Air Force Base, Eicken said serving as an Air Force lawyer was worth the large pay cut from his former salary as a New York tax attorney.
“You cannot put a price on service to your country or the value of a commission,” Eicken said. “I do it for the little kids so they don’t have to put up with this crap in the future.
“It is my desire to serve society and to do the right thing at this point of time in our history. I do this for no other reason but that.”
Shortly before Eicken reported for JAG training, another new recruit now assigned to Cannon began his basic training with similar motives. While Eicken was looking for a way to use his two graduate degrees in law after the terrorist attacks, juvenile counselor Jonathan Bish didn’t have detailed ideas on how he wanted to serve — his primary concern after Sept. 11 was just finding a recruiter’s office in rural Pennsylvania.
“The next day I went to go and find a recruiter and it was about two weeks before I actually got a hold of an Air Force recruiter,” Bish said. “I was devastated that my home has been violated. I’ve always been a very patriotic person; just attacking my country, period, just annoys the heck out of me.”
Now serving as an Airman 1st Class with the 523rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit, Bish has been trained to do weapons work with F-16 fighters.
“As long as I could work with munitions, that is the thing that makes the Air Force the Air Force, and I figure I could have a bigger part in what was going on if I could do that,” Bish said.
Just as Eicken said he is proud to use his legal training to help the Air Force and its personnel navigate through legal trouble, Bish said he looks forward to putting his technical skills to work helping Air Force pilots rain destruction on anyone who attacks America, and wishes he could have joined his Cannon colleagues deployed to Iraq.
“One of the biggest motivations is to keep us from getting attacked again, and be a part of a big enough deterrent that nobody wants to attack (America) again,” Bish said. “That would be the ultimate goal.”
Both Bish and Eicken said they have never regretted signing up.
“One of our core values is service before self,” said Eicken. “We live and we die by our core values and you don’t find that very often in the civilian world. You do find that in the United States Air Force.”