Post community remembers 9/11
September 8, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- When Mark Mallach, then a master sergeant stationed at Fort Jackson, drove to work on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he was waved through the gate by Military Police without having his ID card checked, as was the custom at the time.
Only a few hours later, after terrorists attacked the United States with four hijacked commercial jets,
Fort Jackson -- like other U.S. military installations -- was locked down and the force protection status was raised to "Delta," indicating the highest level of threat.
Mallach, a New York native who now serves as the installation's antiterrorism officer, saw the attacks unfold on TV with colleagues at the newly established Emergency Operations Center.
"We were just spellbound watching the TV for the most part," Mallach said. "I remember I (stepped outside), came back, and the first tower had just collapsed. ... I asked, 'What happened?' And nobody could say anything. They were just in shock."
At the same time, Chaplain (Col.) Bart Physioc, then a brigade chaplain at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, led an impromptu prayer at a restaurant on post after seeing the attacks unfold while having breakfast. Physioc said he remained at the restaurant for a while.
"How could you get up and leave when our world was changing before our very eyes?" he said. "It was one of those surreal kinds of experiences where there's something momentous happening."
At the time, neither man knew how much of an impact the attack would have on them, both personally and professionally.
For Physioc, the event took a different turn when a list of names of the casualties of the attack on the Pentagon was released.
"On the day that the plane crashed into the Pentagon, of course, everybody's wondering ... but there are a lot of people who work there. So you don't think that there's a chance that you knew any of (the victims) necessarily," Physioc said.
One of the names belonged to Lt. Col. Karen Wagner, who was assigned to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel at the Pentagon.
"As they were going through the list of names, her name popped up -- not a face, but a name,"
Physioc said. "I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I wonder.' When I checked it out and found out that it was her, I was really sad, obviously, and shocked."
Physioc, now the Fort Jackson installation chaplain, had met Wagner several years earlier while both were stationed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"I used to go in and pop in her office, ... and we would just visit," he said. "We used to just sit and talk about stories -- stories about our lives. ... We had that kind of a rapport. She was very open."
He said that losing a friend in the attack changed his view on the attacks fundamentally.
"Sitting in the Burger King and watching (the attack) was a moving experience, but it's not the same," he said. "(Losing a friend), it comes home. That's where 9/11 really came home for me, among all those names of all those people who died that day."
Although Mallach did not know anyone personally who died that day, nine alumni from his high school were killed at the World Trade Center. He said he first went back to New York in 2005 and noticed a difference in the vibe of the city.
"(The attacks) changed that city in how folks think and act," Mallach said. "When I lived there, New York was a lot different -- the mentality of the people. They just went about their days. I think they're a lot more caring (now)."
He said visiting Ground Zero for the first time brought back many memories.
"I remember, I'd gone up on the observation deck (of the World Trade Center) when I was younger in high school. It's kind of empty now. It's kind of weird to go there," he said. "Even as I'm traveling up I-95 -- one of the first things you used to see (of New York) was the towers."
The 9/11 attacks also left their imprint on Fort Jackson.
John Coynor, the installation's force protection officer, said a lot has changed on the installation since then.
"The infrastructure has changed a lot, because we build our buildings with the threat of attack in mind, which we never did before," Coynor said. "We built them to be utilitarian. We built them for comfort. We did not worry about the thickness of the glass or the effectiveness of the (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system for keeping chemicals out."
In addition, the EOC that was first stood up as a 24-hour operation that day, still works around the clock with much improved technology, he said.
For Chief Warrant Officer 5 Richard Alston, a 28-year veteran who serves as the installation's senior maintenance adviser, 9/11 has re-emphasized that the military must be ready for action at all times.
"It made me realize I could be here today, I could be (deployed) tomorrow," Alston said. "Being a Soldier, you just have to be ready. You have to stay ready."
Alston has been deployed both before and after 9/11 and said he is ready should he be called upon again.
"Being an American Soldier -- duty first! When mission calls for me to go abroad again, I will go again -- without hesitating. That's what we do," he said.
For now, though, Alston will spend the 10th anniversary of the attacks at home, watching 9/11 coverage on TV. Although Alston, Mallach, Coynor and Physioc each plan on commemorating the anniversary in their own way, all have emphasized the importance of remembering that day.
"Anniversaries are important, because if we don't have them then we tend not to remember," Physioc said. "If we don't pause to reflect it just becomes an event in the past that we're not connected to."