Military Firefighters, Police in Iraq Reflect on 9/11
September 11, 2008
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - At 8:45 a.m., Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy struck the hearts and minds of millions around the world when a hijacked plane flew into One World Trade Center in New York City.
Eighteen minutes later, a second hijacked plane flew into Two World Trade Center. American Airlines Flight 77 was later flown into the Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa., after passengers took control of the plane from their hijackers.
As with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, almost every American can tell you where he or she was on that historic day.
"I was at the station doing house work when I saw the first plane hit the tower," said Thomas Wolff, South Victory Fire Department, then a firefighter in Savannah, Ga. "I called all the other guys in, and we just watched and talked. Then, we saw the second plane hit, and I knew we were at war."
Army Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Murray, an Ohio National Guardsman serving here with the 583rd Military Police Detachment, also serves as a civilian firefighter when he's not serving his country. He said he remembers very vividly being at his station in Youngstown, Ohio.
"I had just got on shift at my department and saw the first plane hit on the TV," Murray said. "All I could think about was what those guys were experiencing in the heat of the fire and having to climb all those stairs. Then, I saw the second tower get hit, and immediately my mind went to, 'Do they need help''"
While Wolff is a civilian and Murray is a soldier, they both said they felt the need to serve their country following the attacks. Murray got his chance when his MP unit was activated for deployment at the end of September 2001. He's now serving his third deployment in support of the war on terrorism. Wolff got his opportunity three years later, when he found out about openings in Iraq to fight fire. He is on his third tour as a civilian firefighter in Iraq.
"I gave up an 11-year career at the station I was at for the opportunity to fight fire in Iraq," Wolff said. "I grew up a military brat, and essentially chose the fire service over the military."
Murray recognized the tremendous courage shown by rescue workers on the scene in New York.
"Those firefighters were not thinking about the consequences of going in those buildings," he said. "They were just doing their jobs, trying to save people's lives."
Wolff said future generations must remember Sept. 11.
"It's one of the biggest days in our nation's history," he said. "Three hundred forty-three firemen and thousands of people died. They have families and friends who have to remember Sept. 11 every day of the week. It's important for our country and those people that we never forget."
Murray said he is glad to be serving his country in Iraq and able to remember those who died while he's deployed.
"Being here on 9/11 makes things a little more special for me," he said. "Every American wanted to do something after that, whether it was buying a flag, a yellow ribbon or fighting for your country. This is how I'm helping, and I'm very proud."
(Army Spc. Justin Snyder serves in the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.)