It was September 11, 2001; a day that started out much like any other, but would change our lives forever...
At the time I was a newly promoted sergeant in the US Army, stationed at Fort Lewis, WA with the 571st Military Police Company. I was assigned as their senior mechanic. Being a mechanic wasn’t my first choice of jobs in the Army (I wanted to be Cavalry), but being one allowed me to be close to home so I could help my mom out with my baby sister. Anyways, I had only been promoted a few months prior to that so as they say my stripes were still wet. Up to that point my career had only consisted of some rotations to Yakima Training Center, a string of Logistic Rodeo wins, and one 2 ½ month deployment to support a multinational training exercise in Egypt (Operation Bright Star). I enjoyed what I did immensely and was good at it. In fact I had even reenlisted the year prior for another four years.
Well, on that fateful morning in September a few of us had reported in a little earlier than usual due to an already scheduled APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test). As we congregated in our Day Room (recreation room) a few minutes before 6:00 AM PST, the TV was turned on and the channel was set to CNN. There was a story being broadcast about a fire in one of World Trade Center towers and that a plane was believed to have struck the building. The reporters were going back and forth about how an accident like this could have happened. I remember thinking how crazy it was that a plane had hit the building to begin with and couldn’t imagine how that could have even happened. We thought that maybe it was a small personal plane that was doing some site seeing and got a little bit to close. Boy were we wrong- a few minutes later the unimaginable happened. On live TV a second plane, a large airliner full of passengers, to our horror came into the picture and flew right into the side of the other World Trade Center tower and exploded, creating a huge fireball and rained fuel and debris on those below. It was then at that moment that we knew this was no longer an accident.
I don’t recall exactly how the rest of the morning played out, if we did the APFT or not, but I do recall going over to my post housing after the horrific act I had just witnessed on the morning news. When I got home I flipped on the TV and pulled my wife out of bed to show her what was going on. To our horror they were now reporting that there may be other planes that were hijacked as well and one may have crashed into the Pentagon. They had no idea how many and what the other targets might be. Since we were in the Seattle area some thought that the Space Needle could be in danger. My phone rang and my boss on the other end. I was told to contact my soldiers and tell them to grab their gear and come back to post immediately. I relayed the messaged and with a quick kiss to the wife and our 2 year old daughter, I grabbed my gear and headed out the door not knowing what the day might bring.
The post was now on lockdown. No one could get on the installation, to include soldiers regardless what rank they were, without presenting their military ID and having their cars and persons searched. That also meant that my soldiers who lived off of the installation wouldn't be back for a quite a while. I headed straight for my unit and when I got there I immediately met with my superiors at the unit motor pool, which is maintenance facility where we park all of our trucks. Weapons were being issued and each unit was to conduct security patrols of their A/O (area of operation). And they were to place guards on the rooftops as well to look for aerial threats-not that a soldier with an M16 would do much good, if any. It was surreal seeing armed soldiers on foot patrols around the post that weren't engaged in a training mission. Hell, they even put up machine gun nests at the gates that were still in use; just months before Fort Lewis was considered an open post and had no guards at the gate. Those that weren't actively on guard duty were to remain in the unit areas or motor pool to get vehicles prepped and dispatched. It was an exciting and horrifying moment all at the same time. For the next few weeks, we practically lived at the shop.
When we had a moment we intently watched and listened to the news. The scene at ground zero was absolutely horrifying. The two towers were now in twisted heaps of steel in the streets of Manhattan. Thousands were missing and unaccounted for and cell phones were no longer working due to the volume of calls and the destruction of the antennae that sat once sat atop one of those iconic towers.
Sometime during the following days or weeks (it was all such a blur), our sister unit, the 170th Military Police Company, was put on a 72hr deployment alert to go assist with the security of the areas around ground zero. A rapid reaction force alert of this sort was unheard of for our type of unit; especially at the time. It was exciting for all of us in the battalion and honestly, all of us in the other companies were a little disappointed that they weren't the ones that got called up, since by this point we all wanted to be there at ground zero making a difference. Unknown to us at the time we to would get our chance to be a part of history.
Collectively as a battalion we now had 72 hours to get all of 170th’s trucks ready to be airlifted to New York by way of C-17’s. This unfortunately meant there couldn't be absolutely any leaks on any vehicle, no exceptions. For the next 3 days, except for maybe 3-4 hours each night to rest, we worked on those trucks.
My guys worked tirelessly and bloodied their knuckles good replacing seals and gaskets, and plugging any other leak we could find on those worn out trucks. Not only were the mechanics twisting wrenches, but the vehicle crews as well. It was a concerted team effort. We believed in what we were doing and would stop at nothing short of success; working and sacrificing now for a much greater cause.
Within weeks of 9/11, President Bush announced that we were sending troops to Afghanistan to not only hunt for Osama Bin Laden who was the head of Al Qaeda, but to dismantle the Taliban led government that was complicit in hiding them. Within months we were training and heading to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to guard the detainees captured during the invasion of that country...