By Heather Graham-Ashley, III Corps and Fort Hood Public AffairsSeptember 9, 2011
FORT HOOD, Texas, Sept. 9, 2011 -- He was sitting in his office at 1st Corps Support Command in Wiesbaden, Germany, when the G-3 sergeant major summoned him down the hall, into an office and urged him to look at the TV. It was a replay of an airplane hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center.
As the office began filling with others, transfixed and staring at the television, he was confused.
Then the second plane hit the south tower.
"I got so dizzy," he said.
Ten years later, like practically every American, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Wagdi Mabrouk can recall his every action and every feeling from Sept. 11, 2001.
As an Egyptian-American and a lifelong Muslim, as well as a Soldier in the U.S. Army, Mabrouk was confused and angry, especially after he found out the terrorists were Muslim.
Born in New York, Mabrouk is an American.
"I was born in this country," he said. "We watched the towers going up."
That day, Mabrouk rushed to call his mother. She answered on the first ring.
"She was screaming, 'He didn't do anything,'" he said.
His brother, Adel, worked in the north tower, and no one could get in touch with him. The family knew Adel, a maintenance supervisor, would be at work because even though he worked third shift and got off around 8 a.m., Adel usually stayed until 11 a.m. to ensure his guys were set for their shift.
The family found out later on Sept. 11 that Adel set his window-washing crews up at the tower. He then left to meet a co-worker for breakfast. He was headed home on the Long Island Railroad when the attacks occurred.
Adel lost 39 of his men that day and has never been the same, Mabrouk said.
That day changed Mabrouk as well.
He was disgusted by the attacks and worked to separate himself and his faith from those who carried out the attacks on his country.
"I don't want to be the bad guy," Mabrouk said. "I worked hard to win acceptance in my unit."
After Germany, Mabrouk was assigned to 1st Battalion, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Hood, the unit with which he deployed to Iraq in 2003.
He meshed well with his unit and felt accepted before they left. While in Iraq, Mabrouk helped with cultural liaison duties as well as interpreting. He organized efforts to help Iraqi children receive shoes.
The tide changed for him when an American Soldier assigned to the 101st Airborne Division turned on officers in his unit and threw a grenade into their tent, killing two.
Once again, Mabrouk separated himself and worked hard to show he was one of the good guys.
Since the attacks in 2001, Mabrouk has been outspoken about condemning not only the 9/11 attacks, but others as well. He feels it is his duty as a Muslim and as an American.
"It is our job not only to educate non-Muslims, but our brothers as well," Mabrouk said. "After 9/11, the attacks affected Muslims, especially American-Muslims, in ways many do not understand."
He said the attacks were a turning point for Muslims worldwide. For Mabrouk, that turning point led him to learn more about his faith and to share it with others.
"As Muslims, we are forever in the position that we have to convince people," he said. "We absolutely have to speak out against any acts of violence."
Fort Hood Garrison Public Affairs Director Tom Rheinlander was in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
Thirty-four minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center and a few hundred miles south, then-Lt. Col. Rheinlander was watching television news coverage of the attacks from his office in the Pentagon outside Washington when he heard and felt a rumble.
"It was nothing to a great extent," he said. "The building gave a little shake."
As the deputy public affairs officer for the Joint Staff, Rheinlander constantly had a television on in his office.
When he saw the first plane hit, his initial thought was that it was a small plane and an accident. When the second plane struck the south tower, Rheinlander thought there was a potential that it was no accident.
Within the office in the Pentagon, email traffic started to flow as those at the highest levels in defense started to absorb the incidents.
When the Pentagon was struck, Rheinlander and his co-workers were sure it was a truck bomb.
Within a minute or two following the attack, alert sirens and the big voice came on.
"I remember the voice, 'This is not a drill. This is a real emergency,'" Rheinlander said. "People heeded that."
The office staff followed their practiced evacuation route and exited the building safely. One person was not accounted for immediately because the worker was in another part of the building at the time of the attack.
Rheinlander left a voicemail on his home phone to let his family know that he was safe. He did not know at the time that the attacks had affected the cell phone lines and his family never received his message.
"I thought my family knew I was OK," Rheinlander said.
He let them know there was an incident at the Pentagon, that he had evacuated and that he was alright.
Rheinlander then awaited instructions.
Outside the Pentagon, he was on the opposite side of where the building was hit.
"I could see heavy black smoke," he said. "I knew something had occurred against the Pentagon. I thought it was a truck bomb."
No one with Rheinlander had imagined a plane crashing into the building at that time.
"We didn't see it as a viable target for a plane," he said.
Cell phone lines were jammed, but the public affairs officer received a text from the National Military Command Center to come back inside the Pentagon. The Joint Staff PAO was still in the building. That office was located well-within the Pentagon and away from the blast.
Escorted by firemen, Rheinlander went back in and got to work.
"The NMCC was still operational, but communication was hazy," he said. "The decision was made to continue as long as possible."
Rheinlander said they re-entered the building and worked not only because they had jobs to do, but also to prove a point.
"We took a hit, but we continued to operate," he said. "There was a determined resolve that we were going to continue to function."
Eventually, Rheinlander and some key staff were airlifted to an alternate location to set up the contingency office in case the Pentagon became unstable or unsafe.
As they took off on those helicopters, the staffers were provided the first clear view of the damage. That was when they were sure it was not a truck bomb.
After setting up the alternate location, the decision was made to continue to work out of the Pentagon. Rheinlander made it home to his family around 6 p.m. It was then that he discovered they never got his message.
That was when the events of the day hit home. His family did not know he was OK until he walked in the door.
The next day, and many others that followed, Rheinlander returned to the Pentagon and conducted daily briefings with members of the Joint Staff. And he watched the Pentagon and America rebuild.
The attack changed the Pentagon, and it changed Rheinlander.
"It made me more reflective and more appreciative of what the military does," he said. "I pause and think that I could have been in a meeting (in that part of the building) that day."
With the 10th anniversary of that day rapidly approaching, Rheinlander said it is good to have a mark on the calendar.
"Ten years really isn't any more special to me (than previous years)," he said. "Each year, I take time to pause, reflect and refocus. It's something that will stay with me."
The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, were a shared tragedy that became a watershed moment for all Americans, regardless of where they happened to be that morning.
Heroes were made in New York City, at the Pentagon and in a field outside Shanksville, Pa.
It was a time of deep sadness as well as a rallying point for Americans. It was a day most will never forget.
As the annual observances of Sept. 11 occur, Mabrouk and his family are mindful of the date and how strongly it has affected the country, and they are respectful of ceremonies. He knows that as deeply as the attacks touched him, the nation as a whole was affected as well.
"We'll never be the same," Mabrouk said. "We are still healing."