Staff Sergeant Robert Gutierrez at the American Air Museum

I Want to Do Something Bigger Than Myself: A Patriot’s Response to 9/11

Many Americans shared the feelings of San Diego native Robert Gutierrez Jr. following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He went to enlist the very next day, recalling: “I wanted to go and fight for my country and do something bigger than myself, for a better cause.”

Staff Sergeant Gutierrez served as a joint terminal attack controller with US Air Force Special Operations Command, assigned to RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk. While deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, Gutierrez was shot in the chest during an extended firefight near a village in Herat Province. He had witnessed similar wounds and believed he had only a few minutes left to live.

Despite his injuries, in what he thought would be his final action, Gutierrez requested aerial support from F-16 Fight Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs. The target was only 30 feet from his position, but he didn’t hesitate to call in a strafing run because “it was our best shot at getting out of there. When I told that to the [aircraft pilot], he said, “OK, are you sure?” And I said, “Yes, I need this more than anything right now.”

In September 2011, Staff Sergeant Gutierrez was awarded the US Air Force’s second highest distinction, the Air Force Cross, for extraordinary heroism in combat. All Americans are indebted to Gutierrez and so many other men and women in uniform for the sacrifices they have made since 9/11.

Courtesy of Robert Gutierrez Jr.

A Clear Day 20 Years Ago

People were going to work and going about daily routines under blue skies when terrorists crashed a hijacked commercial aircraft into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Confusion turned to terrible certainty when a second aircraft collided into the South Tower. This was not some unimaginable accident. America was under attack.

A third aircraft would be flown into the Pentagon just outside Washington, DC. A fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania after the crew and passengers fought the terrorists for control. In less than two horrific hours, nearly 3,000 people were killed. Most were civilians, and they came from over 70 countries.

The events on 9/11 led to war in Afghanistan, to the US declaration of the “War on Terror” and subsequently to the invasion of Iraq. The effects of 9/11 were also felt abroad, as many governments began to introduce new anti-terror legislation to combat the threat from international terrorism.

The American Air Museum showcases the impact of these pivotal events through a twisted piece of steel work from the World Trade Center, and Staff Sergeant Gutierrez’s uniform and personal accounts of his heroic actions. It is part of the museum’s “War in the Mountains and Deserts” hub, featuring artifacts from American and British forces’ cooperation from the Gulf War of 1990-91 to NATO action following the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1999, and more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

See for Yourself

AAMB members can view the museum’s 9/11 artifacts and learn about other aspects of “War in the Mountains and Deserts” via our 360-degree virtual tour. In fact, they can explore the whole museum through our 360-degree tour, getting up close to over a century of air power from a World War I biplane to a contemporary unmanned aerial vehicle.

These interactive features allow you to see what it was like to sit in the cockpit of a B-29 Superfortress bomber, to examine the massive turbojet engines of a SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft, and to “walk” through the rich museum displays dealing with eras of aerial combat that most interest you.

Our 360-degree tour is exclusive to our members. Email member services at if you need assistance accessing the site. As you enjoy the virtual tour, reflect on how Robert Gutierrez describes the common values that unite the US and UK and inspired his military service:

“You have your opinion, you have your freedom of speech, you have your freedom of religion, and that’s what we fight for. To be free. That’s why we fight side by side.”

As long as the US and UK exist, our nations will have common cause. And as long as there is an American Air Museum in Britain, Americans who put their lives on the line fighting for freedom will be honored.

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