Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where Were You When the World Seemed to End?

Tribute in Light (please take time to view the description and acknowledgement below)*

September 11th, 2011.  The day the world seemed like it was coming to an end.  Where were you?  Where was I...

I was a Staff Sergeant in the Army.  Stationed with the 25th Infantry Division (L), 125 Military Intelligence Battalion.  We were in the field.  Training exercises.  It's what we did.  My husband was playing single dad with our almost 8 month old son while I played Soldier and got dirty for the week.  At least that was the plan.

The evening of September 10th (Monday) my squad and I got in our vehicles and went out to our site.  It was my first time as a squad leader.  I'll admit I was nervous.  I always wanted to impress.  To show people that I was good at what I did.  It didn't start out well.  It was dark and we were having difficulty finding the site we were supposed to set up at.  It took awhile, but we eventually got there and set up.

I jumped into the back of our "system" after it was set up.  I then proceeded to block all news and music stations that I could find.  Our job was to "Find the Enemy" and I didn't want people distracted and not looking for OPFOR (Opposing Forces).  We were a squad of 4, Newsom, Cash, Jefferson and me.  Newsom was my Assistant Squad Leader and he took first shift.  Jefferson took guard shift.  Cash and I racked out in the back of the chase vehicle (the vehicle that follows our system with all the gear in the back).

Around 4:30am I was woken up by Newsom.  He told me, "Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center and there were fears that other planes may have been hijacked."

I sat up straight and just looked at where his voice came from in the dark.  "What?" I said as I processed the information, although I really didn't need it repeated.  Then I asked, "Did you report it to the TOC (Tactical  Operations Center)?"


"Do it."  Newsom left and got on the radio.  I got on my cell phone.  I called my husband.  He had already been called by his oldest sister and his unit.  He was watching the news.  It was bad.  There was a lot of confusion in the news.  He was getting our son ready for day care and was taking him in as soon as it opened.  He was needed at work.  It was going to be a long day.  I told him I loved them both and needed to go.  I had to call my aunt and uncle that were living in Hawaii.  My Uncle Jeff's family was from New York.

I called and Uncle Jeff answered.  I could tell I just woke them.  "Turn on your T.V.," I said, "Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center and more may have been hijacked.  We're under attack."  He said he had to go and hung up.  I understood.  He needed to make sure his family was safe.

I got out of the vehicle and went to the system where Newsom was still listening.  I asked him what the TOC said.  He replied that they claimed it was all a part of the exercise.  When that happened however, Cushman, a team leader from one of the other dismounted teams, popped up on the radio with the reply, "Bullshit!" and explained that they intercepted it too and it was a news station reporting.  They were now reporting that another plane hit the Pentagon.  Then one went down somewhere in Pennsylvania.  My home state.  How many more?  That's all I could think of.

Eventually the TOC pulled their heads out of their asses and realized that this was real.  Another platoon member who was back at the TOC had brought a portable T.V. with him.  He was from New York.  Fiorelli was his name.  A good ol' Italian boy from the city.  He turned the portable on just in time to see the first Tower collapse.  I can't imagine what that was like for him.

All four of us were standing in or around our system.  There was no one pulling security.  We just weren't "playing Army" anymore.

"It's bin Laden," I stated.  Something that wouldn't be repeated on the news until later.  Most people in MI knew who Osama bin Laden was, even if we weren't "active" in the intel field. It was no secret that he hated America.  It was no secret that he would do anything within his power to strike at America if given the opportunity.  I had no doubt that it was him.  There was no reply to my statement.  There was none need.  I guess we all already knew it was probably right.  Knowing doesn't make anything better.

Pentagon Flag **
One of the guys (I can't remember which one) asked me, "What's going to happen?"

"We're going to be pulled back in."  I don't know how I knew that.  Maybe it was because I wanted it to happen.  I needed it to happen.  I wanted to get home to my husband and son.  I was terrified that a military day care would be targeted.  He didn't care who he attacked.  Unrealistic fear?  There are no unrealistic fears to a parent.

I continued, "There are too many people that need to find out how their families are.  I can't imagine them keeping us out here much longer." And then there was the unspoken fact that we were now at war.  Attacked at home and would be needed to defend our home.  We didn't know how bad this was going to get, but we knew everything was about to change.

There was only one set of headphones for the system.  Only one person could listen at once, but we all wanted to be that person.  We did take turns and whoever had the headset would relay any new information to the rest of us.  Eventually my Platoon Sergeant, Stege, came out to the site.  To see how we were doing.  To tell us to break down because we'd be going back in.  No surprise there.  It took several hours before we made it back to the company area.

Our company was in a quad.  Four buildings facing inward.  That's just pretty much how the majority of Schofield Barracks was set up.  When we returned to the quad it was surrounded by triple-strand concertina wire (razor wire) with a guard at each entry point checking IDs.  The entire post was like this.  Not only was the post at 100% ID check, vehicle inspection (complete with looking under each vehicle for bombs), but once you got on post you had to show ID to get into your quad.  If anyone doubted that this was serious, that ended any doubts.

I got home later that evening.  Talked to family and held mine.  We watched the TV until I don't know how late.  My husband worked one of those "active" intel jobs.  I knew he knew stuff.  And I knew he couldn't tell me.  I accepted that.  I understood.  I wouldn't ask.  Didn't really need to.  I mean, how bad is bad?  It already was.

My uncle's family was safe.  My family was safe.  Why then did it seem like none of us were safe and that we all had lost someone dear to us?  Was this how it felt after our innocence was taken at Pearl Harbor?  I was certain it must have been.

I was a Soldier.  I knew we were now at war.  We all knew it.  There was no cheering.  No stupid smack-talk about going out and killing bin Laden.  We all wanted him.  We all wanted to go, but this was an indescribable moment and there was no juvenile posturing like you see today.  No one prays for peace more than the Soldier that has to fight the war and lose their brothers and sisters in arms.

Looking back I find it amazing at how calm and incredibly somber we were.  There were no tears shed from my squad.  It didn't even occur to me to cry.  We were in shock.  Perhaps if we had seen rather than heard what was happening there would have been tears.  There certainly were many since.  There will continue to be many in the years to come.  Osama bin Laden is dead.  This is the first anniversary of the attacks that we can say that.  It damn well took us long enough...but you know what?  It doesn't lessen the pain.

Members of my unit experienced what I can only describe as Divine Intervention on September 11th, although we would not hear of it until later.  My former Platoon Leader, CPT Meyer, had left the military and was working at the World Trade Center. He was one of those insanely hard-core-ranger-tabbed-dudes that would walk 10 miles with a broken leg because it was nothing big.  He'd never go to sick call.  He'd be in a hospital only if forced.  He wasn't at the World Trade Center on September 11th....he was in the hospital.  He was sick and his family made him go.

Writing this post was extremely difficult as I'm sure it was for many who have written posts for today.  I never saw the original footage of the attacks with the newscasters talking.  I saw the sanitized images.  The footage of the images without any human reaction.  Just analysis.  There was something about seeing the video and hearing their reactions that is just so gut-wrenching.  It made it feel as though it had just happened.

The website I watched this video on is a page at the National Archives called "Understanding 9/11".  The video is toward the bottom of the page and they list a chronology and description of the footage you'll watch.  There are broadcasts from Mexico, Japan, Russia, Iraq and Britain as well as the U.S.  A unique international perspective, and you really don't need to understand the different languages.

I'm a disabled veteran of the United States Army, and I'm a hippie-chick to boot.  Crazy combination.  Crazy chick.  Hippie chick or not...I can't listen to Darryl Worley's, "Have You Forgotten?" without tearing up.  Some scars don't heal that easily, and these scars dug at our country deep.  It truly felt like the world was coming to an end that day.


*Tribute in Light - The "Tribute in Light" memorial is in remembrance of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The two towers of light are composed of two banks of high wattage spotlights that point straight up from a lot next to Ground Zero. This photo was taken from Liberty State Park, N.J., Sept. 11, the five-year anniversary of 9/11. (U.S. Air Force photo/Denise Gould)

**Pentagon Flag - WASHINGTON -- Military members rendered honors as fire and rescue workers unfurled a huge American flag over the side of the Pentagon during rescue and recovery work following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. The attack came at approximately 9:40 a.m. as a hijacked commercial airliner, originating from Washington, D.C.'s Dulles International Airport, was flown into the southern side of the building facing Virginia Highway 27. (U.S. Navy photo by Michael W. Pendergrass )

Information presented on is considered public information and may be distributed or copied. Use of appropriate byline/photo/image credits is requested. 

8:01 am - American Airlines Flt 11 takes off from Boston heading to Los Angeles.  There were 92 people on board.

8:14 am - United Airlines Flt 175 takes off from Boston heading to Los Angeles.  There were 65 people on board.

8:21 am - American Airlines Flt 77 takes off from Washington D.C. heading to Los Angeles.  There were 64 people on board.

8:41 am - United Airlines Flt 93 takes off from Newark heading to San Francisco.  There were 40 people on board.

8:46 am - Flt 11 crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center

9:03 am - Flt 175 crashes into the South Tower of the World Trade Center

9:40 am - Flt 77 crashes into the Pentagon

9:59 am - The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses

10:07 am - Flt 93 crashes into a field in Shanksburg, Pennsylvania

10:15 am - Portion of the Pentagon collapses.  Approximately 200 people died in and around the Pentagon.

10:28 am - The North Tower of the World Trade Center collapses

4:00 pm - CNN reports that their are indications that Osama bin Laden is responsible for the attacks.

5:25 pm - Number 7 World Trade Center collapses

8:30 pm - President Bush addresses the nation