His squadron got the alert: a “real world mission was going down.”
The team – at Aviano Air Base in northeastern Italy – raced to the field and was briefed, as planes were armed and prepared to launch. Hundreds of miles away, fellow Americans were under attack in Benghazi.
"There were people everywhere,” said the witness, who was on the ground that night but wished to remain anonymous. “That flight line was full of people, and we were all ready to go” to Benghazi.
Only they were waiting for the order. It never came.
“The whole night we were told that we are waiting on a call,” he told Fox News.
This account is from a squadron member at Aviano the night of the Sept. 11, 2012, terror attack in Benghazi. The source, the first in his squadron to speak out publicly since that attack, is going public to explain – in his view – that more could have been done to save Americans under attack that night.
He asked that his identity be protected for fear of retribution. He says others in his squadron also have wanted to talk about Benghazi from the beginning, but no others have been interviewed and all are afraid of the potential backlash from speaking out.
“I'm not trying to give away any type of [information] that could ever harm the military,” the source told Fox News. “That is never my plan. I feel that some things need to come to light.”
Namely, he said, that a team was ready to go that night to help protect Americans under fire in Benghazi – an account that runs counter to multiple official reports, including from a House committee, a timeline provided by the military and the controversial State Department Accountability Review Board investigation, which concluded the interagency response to Benghazi was “timely and appropriate.”
The source said: "I definitely believe that our aircraft could have taken off and gotten there in a timely manner, maybe three hours at the most, in order to at least stop that second mortar attack … and basically save lives that day."
Former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed in that second wave. Ambassador Chris Stevens and information officer Sean Smith were killed in the initial attack on the main compound.
“We could have been there. That's the worst part,” the source said.
The source who spoke with Fox News challenged the military claim that a re-fueling tanker wasn’t available. He said American jets routinely refuel by using what’s called a “hot pit maneuver,” which allows the jets to land and then get fuel without shutting off the engines.
Multiple sources say there were multiple locations available the night of the attack.
He said they were waiting on the call, though, through the night. The men say they didn’t truly learn about the mission they had missed until they returned home the next day from the airfield and saw the reports about the Benghazi attack on the news.
Many still don’t talk about the subject and some insist it has hurt morale within the squadron because “people know we were stationed there and didn’t respond.”
The same frustrations have compelled Mike, a former team sergeant for a military anti-terror quick reaction force, once known as the CIF, to talk.
“For some reason they were all shut down, and I think it leads back to a policymaker somewhere because nobody in the military is going to shut down an operation,” he said. On the night of the attack, Mike was at Delta Force headquarters in the U.S. monitoring the events as they happened.
“We had hours and hours and hours to do something ... and we did nothing," he said.
Despite the claim by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department that nothing more could have been done, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit recently revealed that Department of Defense Chief of Staff Jeremy Bash immediately offered assistance to the State Department on the night of Sept. 11, saying forces could move to Benghazi and “they are spinning up as we speak.”
Mike echoed that: “I know everything was spun up and nothing was done.”
He added: "At our level, we were doing everything we were supposed to be doing. At everybody else's level above us, it was political."
In June 2014, Delta Forces captured Abu Khattala, a man now charged in the attack.
Mike, though, said Khattala is a low-level operative and not one of the terror cell leaders. He said the U.S. could have collected intelligence leading to “bigger fish” had the U.S. acted sooner following the attack.
Meanwhile, while Democrats have called the House investigation into the Benghazi attacks a waste of time and money, committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., says his committee has uncovered new facts – but does admit they still are having issues finding witnesses.
“It’s been very frustrating,” Gowdy told Fox News.
In response to Fox News’ reporting, he also issued a statement saying it is “deeply troubling there are individuals who would like to share their stories, but have not because they are afraid of retaliation from their superiors.”
The two men who spoke with Fox News have not spoken with the committee.