RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — When America was under attack 20 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001, service members answered the call to defend our nation. But they didn’t all go overseas. On this anniversary, a Richmond veteran says he was honored to serve right here at home.

Twenty years ago, Kevin Patterson was at his Richmond home watching the news. When he realized he was watching history unfold, he knew he had a job to do.

“I really didn’t put two and two together until that second plane hit, then kind of sprung to action, something was wrong there,” recalled Patterson.

Patterson was a member of the Virginia Air National Guard. He liked the flexibility – serving one weekend a month, two weeks a year. But on that day he knew the country would require more of him, so he put everything aside to serve.

“Went upstairs, got dressed, packed my duffle bag and off I went. Probably driving a little too fast down the interstate, but the interstate was pretty much empty, had the road to myself,” he said.

Patterson reported to Langley Air Force Base in Hampton. His mission: loading missiles and ammunition onto F-16 fighting falcons. It was something he had been trained to do, now taking on a new urgency, as these jets played a vital role.

“There was a red phone, and if that red phone rang, the pilots jumped in the seat, you arm the jet, they take off. The pilot has no idea where they’re going until they’re airborne, and we may see it on the news,” said Patterson.

It could’ve been an unidentified aircraft, or another possible attack in DC, they didn’t know. Those jets had to fly, and that phone kept ringing.

“The fear for me was really the fear of the unknown,” said Patterson. “9/11 opened my eyes to the unknown threats from within our country rather than from outside. The threats are real and I think people need to remain vigilant to this day.”

For about a week, Patterson was on guard and on edge. And while he didn’t serve overseas, he fully understands the cost from the aftermath of that tragic day.

He pointed at a name on a memorial.

“The fourth [name] down is pretty important to me, it was a friend,” he said. “Shane Adcock, who got killed in 2006 in Iraq, so this has a special place for me…I’m a lucky one, I’m still alive.”

Patterson now works for financial services firm Edward Jones but his service with the Virginia Air National Guard and the memories following 9/11 will stay with him for a lifetime.