By Staff Sgt. Debralee BestSeptember 11, 2014
VICKSBURG, Miss. -- As we take the time to remember those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001 and the service members who gave the ultimate sacrifice following that day, Soldiers and civilians of the 412th Theater Engineer Command gather to honor their legacy and to reflect on how that day affected them personally during a special service held at the George A. Morris U.S. Army Reserve Center.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Destria Gladney, division transportation officer, 412th Theater Engineer Command, was one of those individuals. She was living in California getting ready for work when on the way to the bathroom, the television caught her attention.
"I just caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of this airplane flying into a building, then I looked back and it was the twin towers and I said to myself, get my bags together because before I even get to work I'm just going to tell them, 'I'm leaving, uniform on,'" said Gladney, a St. Louis native. "I had my bags packed and at the door before I left for work."
Another Soldier had the same reaction to prepare for the call, but he received the news from the radio after leaving work. Fredrick A. Conley, 412th TEC, SHARP coordinator and program manager, also a Reserve sergeant first class, had worked the midnight shift and clocked out at 7 a.m. He walked to the car and turned the radio on.
"Everything was kind of going crazy on the radio, talking about planes crashing into buildings in New York," said Conley. "At the time I was in the National Guard and instead of going home, I drove to the armory. The armory was in chaos and everybody was trying to figure out what was going on. My only question to my commander is, 'When do we leave?' I went home and packed up every bit of military clothing I had and I just left it in a closet until we got the phone call."
Only hearing about it, others still prepared. Lt. Col. Edmun D. Williams Sr., Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear officer, 412th Theater Engineer Command, was working in a Walmart in Louisiana when he overheard a conversation about the events taking place.
"I said to myself, I know now we're going to be called up on alert so I let my manager know for the next few months I knew I'd be in and out getting ready to prep, getting ready to get deployed and go help out our county," said Williams, a Monroe, Louisiana native.
While some Soldiers sprang into action, preparing themselves, others met the news with disbelief. Master Sgt. James Shinard, mobilization and readiness noncommissioned officer, 412th Theater Engineer Command, was working in Atlanta at a furniture company inspecting products on the floor when he received the news.
"People ran out and got me and said, 'Hey, come in here. Planes are hitting the World Trade Center.' I was like, 'What!?' and they said, 'No, come look at the TV. Planes are actually hitting the World Trade Center.' I said, 'A movie?' They said, 'No, it's for real,'" said Shinard, a Bolton, Mississippi, native. "So, I ran into the break room and I got a chance to see the second plane when it actually hit the second World Trade Center."
Some prepared, some didn't believe, but there are others who have stories with shocking coincidences. Master Sgt. Darryl Cheatham, operations noncommissioned officer, 412th Theater Engineer Command was attending an antiterrorism class in Pennsylvania.
"I was on the way to my class and we were going over a block of instruction on the first attack on the World Trade Center and that's when the plane hit the tower," he said. "Everybody from the class came down to the bar in the hotel and watched the second plane hit. It was actually a weird feeling within the class because we were going over that block of instruction when that particular incident happened."
While the happenstance was shocking, the incident hit very close to home for Cheatham.
"First thing I thought about was my family because I'm from New York and my family was in New York," he said. "All our communication lines were down, our cell phones weren't working. I couldn't communicate with anybody. It impacted me about how it all happened in the place I live, the place where I grew up."
While it hit hard for Cheatham he was ready to go as a Soldier.
"I just knew something else was going to come of it and shortly after that I was deployed," he said.
Cheatham wasn't the only one who was ready to serve after that day.
"When 9/11 hit what it did for me was it reaffirmed my commitment as a Soldier, as a citizen," said Shinard.
Shinard used that commitment to help mobilized more than 200,000 Soldiers and deployed. He remained on active duty up to the next 6 years.
"Actually, when I was planning on retiring, as a result of 9/11, I wound up doing another 8 to 9 years, has me at 30 years in the military now," he said.
While Soldiers were concerned about the future, they were ready for it.
"I was upset, but I pretty quickly made it up in my mind that this is going to turn into something bigger than we all thought and I really felt we were going to war," said Conley. "I was a bit scared at first, but that's what I signed up for, to protect my country and I was ready to go."
While some were prepared to do their duty, others embodied another Army Value: selfless service. Gladney was concerned, not with going, but how it was going to effect the unit and the Soldiers.
"It hurt because all I could think about was the people we would have to get moving, get on the trains, planes and buses and get them out to support," she said. "It had a huge impact because now where I'd never been ramped up for anything as serious as this and homeland! What was I going to do with my kids? What are we going to do as a command? How many families were impacted in our unit? It was huge, it was sad, but it made me think about being a Soldier."
One of the strongest reactions to 9/11 was pride in wearing the uniform. That was exactly what Williams felt.
"It really made me proud to be in the military," he said. "I knew then why I serve the country: I serve for the freedom. We don't take freedom for granted."