September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document
Story:On September 11th I was going about my every day business inside the Pentagon. I had been stationed at the Pentagon for over a year and worked inside the National Military Command Center (NMCC). The NMCC is located in the C-ring and is on the opposite side of the building from where the plane struck. I had just heard from a co-worker that a plane had struck the World Trade Center in New York. My first thought was what a terrible accident, I hope no one got killed. Then the word came down that another plane had hit the Towers and I knew that it was not an accident but a terrorist attack much like 1993. How wrong I was in that thought. Just then I felt the floor shake and we all looked at each other wondering what had happened. Someone came running in to say that we had to evacuate because the Pentagon was on fire. As we were filing out of the Pentagon the rumors were floating that there had been an explosion caused by the construction crew working on renovations, it was a truck bomb came the second opinion, and then someone said that a plane had hit the building. As I look back now I marvel at the calm of those around me. Most of the work force at the Pentagon are government civilians. They were not trained for this but as public servants hold a unique trust of those placed in charge. There was no panic or pushing, just a buzz wondering what exactly had happened.
As we filed outside, on what is called the Riverside entrance, I looked back and for the first time was impacted by the enormity of what had happened. The black smoke and flames could be seen shooting from the building. I stopped and stared, never would I have dreamed that someone would have the audacity to attack my Pentagon. Then came the secondary explosion of the aircrafts fuel tanks. The ground shook, knocking many people off their feet and setting off every car alarm in the parking lot. Then came the panic and screaming from some. The military first responders jumped into action to get everyone out of the parking lot and away from the building. As I was moving to our units rendezvous point I thought now would be a good time for another attack with all these people out in the open. Just then someone started screaming that another plane was headed our way. People dove to the ground and ran for cover. When I looked up saw and then heard the F-16s I almost broke out in tears. Now I really knew what the sound of freedom was like. My brethren were on guard and no more attacks would be coming from the skies.
I was the Non-Commissioned Office in charge of the office that supplied the communications needs for the NMCC staff and support personnel. We had numerous cells phones on hand and had brought them with us. Unfortunately the cellular tower network was quickly overwhelmed. Each one of us wanted to let our loved ones know that we were all right. We also wanted to contact our co-workers who had to stay behind to man their posts. We had a mission to support and as our chain of command was working on getting us back into the building we were trying desperately to contact anyone to pass the word to our family and friends that we were still alive. I was finally able to get through but all I got was my wifes voicemail. We hadnt even been married a year yet and all I could think of was what she must be feeling or thinking at that very moment. After a few more fruitless tries I got through to my father in-law. I assured him I was okay and asked him to get a hold of my wife, Kimberly, and let her know that I would be in contact as soon as I could.
We all waited outside on the grass beside the Potomac River, watching the Pentagon burn and wondering what was next. Some were chosen to go back inside to continue our support of the NMCC. The rest of us gathered around a portable TV that someone had retrieved from their car. We watched the news reports until the batteries died. Finally the word came down that the rest of us were released to go home. We were to stay by the phone until contacted with more instructions. I realized then that it would be impossible for me to get home. You see I car pool and there was no way to find my commuting crowd. I knew of some co-workers who lived close to me and asked them for a ride. We all crammed into the truck and off we went to go home. The trip home was usually about an hour, that day it took almost 3 hours. During that time we talked about the who, the what, and the whys of the attack. Wondering what enemy could reach out and touch us so easily. We each discussed how we were going to contact our loved ones either through phone calls or emails. We also wondered what was in store for us since our place of work was burning.
All those thoughts disappeared when I pulled up in front of the townhouse I was renting at the time. There on the steps stood Kimberly. How she knew I was coming Ill never know. She told me that she knew I would be there and could feel me draw closer. As I held Kimberly I was finally able to cry, able to cry for those lost in the attacks, for Kimberly and for myself. I hated the fact that someone had put my wife, friends and family through hours of living hell. I hated the fact that I was powerless to do anything about it. Hours later I would begin to get angry. I knew that America would not sit by idly and let this go unpunished. As I watched the reports the rest of the evening I felt the same sadness, dismay, and anger that all of America was feeling. But I knew that sooner or later I would have a hand in making sure that whoever was responsible would be brought to justice. For you see the NMCC is the heart and soul of the Pentagon. The directions for military action would come from there and I was part of the mechanism.
I had only been home for about an hour when the call came for me to report for duty the next day, in field gear, at the Pentagon. It is hard to explain the feeling I had when I arrived at 5:30 AM at the Pentagon. The flames were still shooting from the roof and I could see the damage from the parking lot as I slowly walked toward the entrance. It was eerie going into a building that was on fire. The halls were smoke filled and breathing was a little difficult. Parts of the Pentagon were without power and you could see the glow of the fire down some hallways. As I entered the NMCC the first thing that struck me was the cool clean air. The air handlers in the NMCC were the best in the business and had scrubbed the air clean. We all gathered in our office and received our orders from our commander. We went to work. I know that none of us gave a second thought to our situation. Inside a burning building, maybe a target for a second attack, and that we might have to evacuate again if the fire could not be brought under control. We all did what we had to do, what we were paid to do, what we volunteered to do and most importantly what we felt we were called to do, protect and defend our country from all enemies.
Memory:I have many strong memories of that day. Two stand out in my mind. The feeling of security and pride when the F-16's came flying over head as we stood on the grass. Knowing that there wouldn't be another attack from the skies this day. Also the feeling of relieve and gratitude as I held my crying wife and assured her that I was okay. The realization that when it comes down to it all that really matters in life is those we care about.
Affects:The events of 9/11 have affected the country in much the same way the Vietnam War did in the 60's. We have highlighted the differing camps in the US. We have those who stand behind our elected officials, we have those that disagree with our actions, either by belief or ignorance and we have those that are apathetic. I feel overall most people have put 9/11 behind them and have forgotten how terrible that day was for the entire country. There are those who were profoundly affected by the events and will never be able to put it behind them. We need to remind America occasionally that we stand for freedom. Freedom is never easy or cheap. The majority of Americans do not understand how the rest of the world lives or thinks. So we continue our daily lives and every once in a while we think momentarily about history.
Personally it was nice to see the outpouring of patriotism but I knew that would fade with time. I feel less safe than I did before and tend to look up at the sky and over my shoulder more. I have a little survivor guilt now and then. I knew quite a few of the people who died in the Pentagon. I know how lucky I was to be in the right place at the right time. I know how lucky I was to be able to go home that night and be with my family. There were many Americans who were not so lucky on September 11th.