Former Soldier recalls reporting to Fort Drum on Sept. 11
September 7, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- I was on my way to Fort Drum when I stopped for the night at a hotel between Cleveland, Ohio, and Erie, Pa. It was Sept 10, 2001, and my drive would total about 16 hours. I was driving from Kentucky, and my sign-in date at Fort Drum was supposed to be Sept. 11 -- I wanted to arrive in plenty of time to get signed in and find my way around.
This would be my first division assignment, and the only things that I knew about the 10th Mountain were the things I heard from other Soldiers and what I read on the Internet.
"Most deployed division in the Army" was the most common response when people found out where I was going.
I left the hotel by 8:30 a.m., bought gas for my Chevy Blazer, called my husband and ate an apple for breakfast. I flipped through the radio until I found something I enjoyed and headed northeast on I-90.
At about 8:50 a.m., ABC news anchor Peter Jennings came on air to announce that an airliner had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. He was calm -- all things considered -- but emphatic, and I remember thinking, "Wow, that was one heck of a nasty accident."
Ten minutes or so later, Jennings again was talking about a tower. It took me a full minute to realize he was talking about a second plane and a second tower. I flipped the radio to different stations, and the news was the same. I also heard about missing planes that were thought to be … flying right over my head apparently. Word was -- we were attacked from someplace far away.
I was scared. I was by myself, a long way from home and Family, headed to the most deployed division in the Army, and it would months before my husband would be done with his National Guard duties and could join me.
Add to it I had a DoD sticker in my windshield and military gear stacked in the back of my vehicle -- I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb.
About 30 minutes later, I was talking to my mother on the phone when she said, "Oh honey, there's smoke coming from the other side of the White House. No, wait -- it's the Pentagon.
Someone flew another plane into the Pentagon!" At that point, I doubt there was a service member in the armed forces who didn't know what this all meant.
I stopped about every 20 minutes on the rest of the drive because I had dozens of messages to answer -- Family and friends knew I was headed to Fort Drum, but they didn't know where in New York it was located.
My niece, who was 6 at the time and was home-schooled, was studying geography but she had not learned the difference between New York state and New York City. She knew I was headed to New York, and in her mind, I was going to be right at the site where her morning cartoons were interrupted to broadcast the terrorist attacks. I reassured her that I was hundreds of miles away. To this day, she has no desire to fly.
My drive to the installation was very long and tedious. I stopped once to watch a TV in a hotel reception area -- at about the time I heard of the crash in Pennsylvania.
There were about 50 other concerned travelers as my companions and I watched the replays of the attack for the first time.
Late in the afternoon my attempt to get on post to sign in was a failure -- the front guard denied me entrance and said the post was locked down. I had to go back to the interstate area to get a room.
When Sunday rolled around, I went to church in the post chapel.
The chaplain addressed the events of the week with a specific story. As best I remember it, a young -- officer I think -- was in the chaplain's office for emergency assistance on 9/11. It seems his wife worked in one of the World Trade Center towers and was trying to get out via an elevator. She called him, and they were talking as she was trying to escape. When she entered the elevator, her signal cut off. He never heard from her again. There were several messages during this sermon. But the one the chaplain kept coming back to, and the one I took away, was supporting Families, Soldiers and people in your community.
As Paul Harvey would have said, "we all know the rest of the story."
I now work as a civilian for the Army in its marketing division, and as I travel around the Army, I run into numerous people I served with -- some are still Soldiers and others have moved on. In the intervening years, much has happened -- we have dedicated, memorialized and consecrated; we have rebuilt; we have sacrificed; we have mourned and we finally "got" bin Laden. We also "got" Saddam Hussein.
For a short time during the beginning of this historic-making period in which we have all been participants, we united as one. We hurt and mourned as one. We moved forward as one. We committed as one. And as the chaplain said my first Sunday at Fort Drum, we supported each other -- as one.
Spc. Rachael Tolliver formerly served as a staff writer on Fort Drum's post newspaper.