Cadre and senior leaders of Fort Jackson’s 165th Infantry Brigade, and all the battalions it encompasses, took Sept. 8-9 to remember and honor the victims, first responders and military personnel who lost their lives on the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“This is a unique opportunity to remember that event,” said Col. Kent Solheim, 165th Infantry Brigade commander. “This was the Pearl Harbor or JFK (John F. Kennedy) of our generation. We grind to remember.”
Solheim and his team planned a day where trainees, cadre and leaders of the brigade conducted nine hours and 11 minutes of continuous physical activity to feel and understand the variety of emotions and exhaustion that first responders experienced at ground zero.
To add to the sensory experience, a flag flown at the ground zero site in New York was unfurled and raised at Patton Field at 8:46 a.m., the exact time American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Following the raising of the flag, nine mutes and 11 seconds of silence was observed while audio recordings of radio calls between first responders on scene was played.
Volunteers from the U.S. Veterans Motorcycle Club transported the flag along with artifacts from ground zero to the post. One piece included a once blue Port Authority helmet, the face shield and paint permanently stained black from the hot ash of the towers.
“Tomorrow is never guaranteed,” said Chuck Harman, a retired Army sergeant first class and Pennsylvania chapter member. “There were so many folks that could do this, but from ground zero to here was the biggest honor.”
Harman and his fellow club members watched as the Soldiers competed against one another during the crossfit events finals. Two-man teams ran a mile, assault bike, burpees, lunges, deadlifts and another mile to complete the event.
The days remaining events included stair climbing at Moncrief Army Health Clinic, swimming laps at Knight Pool, running and lifting at Pattton Field.
Also observing the endurance events were a variety of people who worked at ground zero and Gold Star Families. They would tell their story from 9/11 during a Leader Professional Development the following day at the Solomon Center.
While only active-duty military personnel typically attend LPD’s, trainees and Advanced Individual Training students were included.
“We know where we were on 9/11,” Solheim said. “But, for most of these trainees, they weren’t even born yet.”
Everyone attending the LPD got first-hand accounts of the events that day and the efforts that continued for months after.
“I was there in late November of 2001,” said retired Col. Pat Mahaney, guest speaker who was a special forces Soldier and a trained firefighter during the time. “When I got there it was still on fire. As they were pulling I-beams out of the pit, they were bursting into flames. It was hot and felt like you were working in the bowels of hell.”
Mahaney would continue working at the site to assist in recovery efforts. Alongside him served Billy Owens, retired New York Fire Department.
“We disobeyed a direct order and drove down there (to the towers). We got there just as tower seven came down,” Owens said of the day he was called into work on his off day. My whole fire house and battalion was killed. My story is not unique, but it didn’t deter us from what we had to do.”
“We had father who followed their father’s footstep onto the job and had sons that would never be able to come home,” said John Carroll, a retired New York Fire Department chief. “These were proud men and their lives will never be the same.”
For Texas Christian University Cadet Luke Taylor, he never got the opportunity to meet his father Col. Kip Taylor. His father was killed when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.
“I was born six weeks after my father died at the Pentagon,” Taylor recalled. “I grew up only learning about 9/11 through stories, documentaries and reading old news articles.”
“My dad was preparing for a meeting and a couple of his coworkers came to his office and asked if he wanted to get some donuts before the meeting. My dad declined. If he would have gotten those donuts, he would be alive today,” Taylor continued. “So, if anyone offers you a donut, go ahead and grab that.”
As the speakers concluded their experiences, attendees were given an opportunity to meet the speakers and ask any questions they may have had.
“I joined because I have Family in the Army and I wanted to serve my country,” said Pfc. Serenity Williams, a trainee assigned to 3rd Brigade, 13th Infantry Regiment. At 18 years-old, the events of 9/11 occurred 3 years before she was born.
“Being from Pennsylvania, (United Flight 93) hits close to home,” Williams said. “It’s also kind of why I joined, so people don’t have to go through that again.”
The LPD and 165th Infantry Brigade 9/11 remembrance events came to a close as Solehiem gave the Oath of Reenlistment to 11 Soldiers from the battalion.
“I am very happy to see that people are still volunteering and keeping the spirit that drives this country and makes us a great country,” said Mark Kobner, retired New York Police Department officer. “I appreciate that you have sacrificed yourselves to carry on these traditions. We can’t forget these things, this is a part of history.”