What 9-11 was, is for me 11 years later
September 11, 2012
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- It's hard to believe it's been 11 years since the 9-11 attacks.
I -- then Army Master Sgt. Jon Connor -- was assigned to the Pentagon with the Army's Office of the Chief of Public Affairs.
We were in our supervisor's office watching events of New York City unfold on TV when he said something like: "If they could do that to the Twin Towers, they could probably hit the Pentagon."
Less than a minute later, I left his office with others and walked back to my cubicle area. At 9:38 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, everything changed.
We heard a huge thud. Some later said they felt the air pressure change. We didn't know what was going on, but we knew enough to get outside quickly.
The next few hours were pretty chaotic with people trying to call on their cell phones to let loved ones know they were OK, with accountability checks being conducted while watching the black billowing smoke and hearing rumors of attacks on Washington, D.C.
Outside were thousands of dazed people. I noticed some pieces of metal scattered on the ground. I didn't know what from. There were even several people running around with blood on their faces and arms, possibly from a car accident I thought.
Eventually, thanks to some people getting through on their cell phones, we learned American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the west wedge of the Pentagon. I knew then that America was going to war.
I felt this attack was even bigger than the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 60 years ago. This attack was a direct hit on our nation's capital city and at the heart of our defense center.
No one really knew what was transpiring on the other side of the Pentagon as scores of people were providing first aid and attempting to rescue others trapped in the Pentagon. The stories of genuine heroes were being born.
After learning that the metro train system was back in service after being down for awhile, we were directed to go home. Eventually I made it onto a very crowded train and made it back to my home in Springfield -- about 18 miles from the Pentagon -- about 1:30 p.m.
I thanked God I was alive and hugged my two little girls and wife with renewed love and meaning.
Later that day, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld directed that Pentagon personnel -- about 23,000 -- should report back to work the next day to show the enemy we were resilient and defiant.
The next day everything was different. Security personnel with automatic weapons were everywhere. The shock of it all, based on what we learned of the attacks from television, made for a surreal environment.
For the next month or so, everyone was in some degree of shock and treated people with a newfound appreciation. I've never seen anything like before or since -- considering that this was the Pentagon, with all its faceless people. Everyone, regardless of rank or position, was in the same nightmare which wouldn't end, and offered genuine understanding and sympathy to each other.
It seems that the events in my life and yours of the past 11 years have been driven by 9-11 in one way or another -- job opportunities, mission priorities, ongoing heartfelt thanks to those Americans who served on numerous deployments and the sacrifices of their families, and most of all, the awareness of those who died or suffered terrible lifetime wounds.
Two years ago, I volunteered for one-year deployment for several reasons, one of which was that -- part of me -- felt I should have deployed prior to retiring from the Army in 2006. The mission offered -- to publicize to the world NATO's efforts to train the Afghan security forces to become professional and self-sustaining -- really grabbed my attention.
Starting November 2010, I served as the public affairs officer for Deputy Commander-Regional Support, NATO Training Mission- Afghanistan. This deployment allowed me to see Afghanistan in a way few are afforded as I travelled throughout the rugged country meeting its people.
I knew when I returned back to my family and Army unit with the Army Sustainment Command at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill., I would come back a changed person.
By this, I mean a new appreciation for the protection and safety our homeland affords us, our nation's wealth and high standard of living, endless opportunities and the ability to choose a career, and the overall liberty and freedom that each American is guaranteed.
The people of Afghanistan, at least the ones I've met, are humble, respectful people who are trying to get their worn-torn country on track after 31 years of war.
Our mission there is noble and just. It has been a long one with support growing shorter with each passing year. Hence, we must get the job done right to ensure 9-11 doesn't ever repeat itself.
I believe most people in the Afghan National Security Force consisting of the Army, Air Force and Police take the Coalition efforts of training them quite seriously. I believe they know what is at stake for their country -- a new beginning with hopes and dreams, or, the real possibility of no progress and chaos.
The future is not going to be easy for them, but nor was it for the United States during its fight for independence, future wars and conflicts. We all long for peace, stability, a prosperous tomorrow, and to raise our children to have a better life than ours. This is my dream for Afghanistan.
At Rock Island Arsenal, we honored those who made the ultimate sacrifice with a 3.25 9-11 early-morning "Memorial Walk" on Sept. 11. As of Sept. 6, the figure of those who died has risen to 11,795 that includes civilians, Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen, Department of the Army civilians, and U.S. contractors.
Later in the day, a Remembrance Ceremony honored those who have died.
Retired Brig. Gen. Brian R. Layer of Moline, Ill., who was also serving in the Pentagon during the attack, and who served as the ASC deputy commanding general of from September 2010 to May 2012, was the guest speaker.