Brig. Gen. Paul T. Stanton, Cyber Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon commanding general, was joined by dozens from the Fort Gordon community in remembering the events of 9/11. Stanton served as the keynote speaker for a Patriot Day ceremony held Saturday on Barton Field. The ceremony began at approximately 8:40 a.m., just minutes before the initial strike on the World Trade Center happened 20 years prior.
Reflecting on where he was and what he was doing on that fateful day 20 years ago, he described a very “normal” day that quickly turned chaotic.
“We were going about our normal routines, and our lives changed dramatically at 0846 … when we first saw the horrific images,” Stanton recalled. “It was clearly no longer an ordinary day. It was now a defining moment that would shape all of our futures.”
Stanton was a company commander with the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, at the time of the attack. His unit was returning from an otherwise normal routine, having just finished physical training, when he caught the news. Initially thinking it was a horrible accident, reality began to sink soon after.
“When the second plane hit … some clarity emerged from the chaos,” Stanton said. “We were clearly under attack, but as Americans, that’s when we steadied our resolve and we sprang into action.”
Unlike many Americans, Stanton wasn’t send home from work for the day nor have time to spend glued to the TV in disbelief. First, he called his wife to check on her and their two young children, then tried to mentally prepare for what was to come his way.
“Our lives changed from that point forward,” Stanton said, adding that “at the time, our unit was on ‘immediate alert’ status, and so my feelings and emotions were harnessed into readiness and being ready for whatever the nation was going to call us to do.”
That day would change the world as we knew it, Stanton said. While the magnitude of devastation could not be overstated, at least one positive thing emerged from that day. As a country, people came together and looked for ways to help.
“We harnessed our anger, our sadness, our anguish, the emotional overload, and we funneled it into patriotism,” Stanton said.
In response to the attacks, nearly 200,000 Americans enlisted in the U.S. military between Sept. 11, 2001, and Sept. 11, 2002. Maj. Travis Kimmel, of the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade, was among those who decided to enlist. Twenty-three years old at the time, Kimmel was working for the state of Indiana as a Child Protective Services investigator.
“I still remember the moment … our director opened the door and came in, which he never did, and said, ‘Something’s happening in New York, and I’ll get you more information, but it looks like a plane accidentally flew into the World Trade Center,’ so we kept on going with our staff meeting,” Kimmel said.
Within two months of the attack, Kimmel went to the nearest recruiter’s station and left with information pamphlets because it was so crowded with people wanting to join.
“The patriotism that emerged … where I come from, there were already a lot of [American] flags, but there were about five-times as many flags after 9/11,” Kimmel said, “and you couldn’t find one at the store if you wanted one.”
Stanton said that since 9/11, Americans have fought “bravely and justly on many fronts,” citing the War on Terrorism, natural disasters and pandemics. In his closing remarks, he encouraged everyone to “take action” by doing something positive, much like Americans did on 9/11.
“Why? Because we’re Americans. It’s what we do,” Stanton said. “We take action.”