By Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public AffairsSeptember 12, 2018
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Sept. 12, 2018) -- Fort Drum community members joined the post's first responders in a solemn 9/11 memorial observance Sept. 11 in front of Clark Hall.
Fort Drum Fire Capt. Robert Tennies served as event narrator at the annual wreath-laying ceremony at the 9/11 monument. Afterward, he spoke about the 24-hours he spent at Ground Zero to assist with search-and-rescue efforts. Tennies said that he was on duty and watched the events unfold on television with his fellow firefighters - all wishing they could be there to help.
"As things continued to unfold, our hearts grew heavy because we realized that today could be a day where a lot of firefighters could die," he said.
Two days later, Tennies was in New York City.
"There was a barrier where civilians could not go past, so the streets were empty and there was a deafening silence - no cars, no traffic and none of the bustle and hustle of a big city," he said.
But then turning a corner onto West Street, the scene changed dramatically and Tennies saw the devastation that resulted from the attack on the World Trade Center.
"First, I had to take everything in, because seeing it on television didn't give it justice to what I saw in real life," he said. "Basically, it felt like my heart stopped and I couldn't breathe."
Tennies said that what he first noticed was that everything was caked in the debris that fell from the towers, but it wasn't what he expected.
"What I didn't see was desk and telephones - these are two 110-story office buildings and there was no office equipment - it was all disintegrated," he said. "Fires were still burning and there was smoke in the air."
Tennies said that he will never forget that day because it is a constant reminder that he is fortunate to be alive and able to serve as a firefighter.
"It's important that we remember it and pass it on to the younger generations of firefighters ... we always have to be prepared and trained," he said.
Tennies, an 18-year veteran of Fort Drum's Fire and Emergency Services, said that hours after the day's ceremony, he would speak with students from General Brown High School about his experience on 9/11. The football team conducted a stair climb to honor firefighters who lost their lives in the World Trade Center.
"It's hard for them to understand the full impact of that day if all they know is what they see on television or read in a book or magazine," Tennies said. "On that day, we watched it unfold and went through the emotions of uncertainty and knowing we were at war."
Last year, Tennies was one of the speakers at a 9/11 luncheon on post. He said it was a memorable occasion for him, albeit a little intimidating speaking in front of a full crowd at the Commons.
"You couldn't hear a pin drop in the Commons because they were listening to every word that I had to say," he said. "That was a good moment, a defining moment, for me."
Before the 9/11 memorial service, more than 100 Soldiers, family members and Department of Defense civilians participated in a 9/11 Remembrance Run outside Magrath Sports Complex.
Joshua Waite, FMWR supervisory sports specialist, said that the run paid tribute to everyone who lost their lives on 9/11 and also the service members who have sacrificed their lives in the war on terror.
"This reminds us why we are here and what we are fighting for," he said. "Some of these Soldiers running weren't even born or were too young to know what happened on 9/11, but they chose to serve."
Roughly 30 Soldiers from A Company, 41st Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, ran the 5K in their body armor.
"We were talking about how this run might smoke some of us, but then you think about those firefighters who ran up the towers wearing all their kit," said Capt. Jack Thomas, company commander. "We train hard, but there are so many others who do just as much and are sacrificing everything as well, and so we want to remember them."
Thomas said he was in sixth-grade social studies class when the assistant principal informed the students about the attacks.
"I didn't even know what the World Trade Center was, but we turned on the TV and watched all day, trying to figure out what was going on," Thomas said. "We were confused, but I remember it vividly."