Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 11, 2010

Please remember

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on September 11, 2010

Please pause a moment to remember where you were when you heard, what you were doing, what you were thinking, what they died for, the pain, the sadness of that day.

Does it seem like nine years ago?

Or an instant?

I have a colleague who thinks we should replace the phrase “Never Forget” with a different phrase:

“Please Remember.”

I have another colleague who shared his memory of that day.

————-

911

This does a little to explain what I experienced during the 911 attack and the weeks and months after.  I was in a special and unique position to experience the attack firsthand and then be assigned to … national security efforts immediately after and as we went to war in Afghanistan.

In my [military] career I had many close calls and experienced personnel losses, yet two traumatic events stand out where I experienced loss of life of people I knew and was close to.  One, my best friend in my aviation squadron was killed as he crashed when landing on an aircraft carrier   That was early in my career.

The other, 911, when seven people I had assigned to work in the … Command Center were killed in the attack.  In five more minutes, I would have been among them.

I lived in an apartment on Arlington Ridge, about one mile from the Pentagon.  On September 11, I had a mid-morning meeting with people who worked for me … in the Pentagon, so I decided to walk there since I had the time.  It was a nice sunny and mild morning in DC.

As I was getting dressed, the television news said that the World Trade Center had been hit by an airplane.  I saw the tower and the smoke and fire on live TV.  My instincts told me immediately this wasn’t an aviation accident.  From the damage in the building I thought it had to be a large commercial jet, not a private small aircraft. I put my uniform on quickly, still looking forward to the walk to the Pentagon.

Halfway on the walk to the Pentagon is a Starbucks in Pentagon City.  As I was waiting at the counter for coffee, the TV showed the second tower, live, in smoke and flames, exactly like the first.  I knew immediately then we were under attack and this was no accident or fluke.  My sense of duty overwhelmed me. As the skipper, I knew I had to get to the Pentagon quickly. Now.

As I walked across the Pentagon parking lot, I heard the roar of a low flying large jet and couldn’t believe where it was. There was no reason for it to be there in that airspace.

The airliner was flying low.  It had an unstable look as its wings were rocking and its nose yawing.  It kept descending, much to my wishes that it wouldn’t. The wings began clipping the tops of the light poles in the lot.  I knew what was next, braced for the impact, and watched it plow right into the side of the Pentagon.

I was about 300 yards away. I felt the heat first. Then the blast.  I couldn’t believe it.

For what seemed like a long time – really it was just short minutes – nothing seemed to happen except the immediate flames and smoke billowing skyward out of the building.

Slowly at first, then in volumes, people began streaming from the building.  My immediate sense was to get inside the Pentagon, because where the plane hit the building was exactly where my people were in the command center.  I knew very soon I wasn’t going to be able to get inside, so I started helping, directing people away to safety as they streamed out.

Many were confused and needed guidance on where to go, which was anywhere really, just away from the now hotly burning building.  I kept looking for the people who worked for me …, desperately hoping they were among the safe.

I found out a day later they were all killed in the command center, where I would have been in five more minutes.

I watched the Arlington Fire Department roll up to the Pentagon in their lime green fire engines, thinking how overwhelmed they were going to be, with two engines fighting this huge inferno.  I wanted to join them, help them, but I knew the best thing was to just stay out of the way.  And so I did what I could, administering first aid, aiding and comforting people on the grassy area, and just doing what I could in a time where no one felt they could really do anything that was anywhere near adequate.

Meanwhile, every time a plane flew in to or took off from Reagan National Airport, many people believed it was bringing another attack.  They ran each time a plane flew over. It was chaos, until all the airplanes were finally grounded.

I stayed at the Pentagon for hours, perhaps hoping I’d see my people appear alive at any moment.  I must have looked exhausted because a Navy chief petty officer who I knew said “Captain, you’ve done your best, it’s really time for you to go home now and please do, sir.”  I agreed as he pointed me the route out, so I walked home and realized while I was walking, I had shed my bomber jacket and uniform shirt and was in just my t-shirt; I must have used the clothes for first aid or blankets.  I don’t remember it.

At home, I stayed.  I called the Director … and reported in over the phone.  Two days later, I was ordered to the Joint Staff to start up and direct the … Task Force.

I boarded a shuttle bus at Arlington Navy Annex to ride to the Pentagon and report in to the Joint Staff.  I was in grief over the deaths of the seven people who worked for me. I had assigned them all to work there and now couldn’t help but believe I had sent them to their deaths.  I got off the bus and walked past the smoking ruins and rescue crews still carrying bodies out.

At that point, I didn’t know what we, the Nation, had in store and whether our very survival was part of the stakes.  We had every reason to believe more attacks were coming.  It was a very vulnerable feeling, not knowing who the attackers were and how we were going to find them.

As I walked in to the Pentagon mission center, people looked fearful and without a sense of mission or reason to be there.  Some knew who I was, and felt calmed that an experienced officer had been sent to lead them.  That calmness spread, fortunately, for probably the big reason I was ordered there is because of my command experience and ability to lead in tough situations.  People were relieved they had a leader to get them organized and functioning.

The next day, when we in the task force were definitely not yet operationally functioning, the general visited our Center and asked for a briefing on the … situation in Afghanistan.

He of course sensed it, and I told him directly that we were not yet ready to brief him like I knew he expected to be briefed.  So after summing up a few things for him that I knew from the intelligence traffic, I asked him to give us another 48 hours.   This was a defining moment for the task force, one of those situations where all eyes rise to the leader because no one else knows what to do.  People watched their commander stand up to the general. It had a remarkable and coalescing effect on the entire group.  It seemed they were then ready to accomplish anything.

The motivation and innovation of this intelligence group took hold immediately.  An Army sergeant went to Borders bookstore and bought out the entire stock of the book on how the Soviets fought their war in Afghanistan.  It was a great idea; we learned quickly this war in Afghanistan would be long and protracted.  We were also perplexed about the caves in Afghanistan and how to figure out where in those caves the Taliban were hiding.  A Marine captain had the idea of contacting the cave divers, spelunkers, so we asked several international spelunker societies and groups about their knowledge of the caves in Afghanistan.

The next week, with our … center barely in an operational status, some Congressional staffers visited and were very piercing and skeptical with their questioning concerning any foreknowledge we could have had of al Qaeda and Taliban.  They began to berate some of my officers and NCOs, insisting that we all should have had knowledge of the 911 attacks.  I interceded into this insulting line of questioning and stopped it, and told the staffers that any further questions would be directed to me and not to the line analysts in the center.

Out in the hall, the staffers and I had what could be called a shouting match (well, they were shouting) and finally I directed them to leave.  They said I had no authority to direct them out and my response was that they were interfering with the good order and discipline of my command and I would call the master at arms if they didn’t leave immediately.  They left; we never heard from them again.

A week later, a U.S. Senator who was the Chair of [a] Senate Committee, visited our center, commended the people for doing the hard work they were doing and on the way out, personally apologized to me for the actions of the staffers.  Again, this was another defining moment for my people, who realized then the important work they were doing in extremely difficult and stressful circumstances….

As the weeks and months passed, our … center was part of many innovative operations, made necessary by the stakes of what 911 brought.  We helped initiate many warfighting solutions … to and from the battlefield, which was very satisfying.  We helped win back Afghanistan from the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, watching as the provinces fell, one by one and the U.S. established control.

Even then, my sense was that this victory was only going to be a temporary one.   From the history books, I knew that Afghanistan was not going to be won.  [Nine] years later, Afghanistan hasn’t been won and it has been very frustrating to watch the Taliban reestablish itself.   Now, I worry that my own son will soon be in the fight.

Of the many things that stay with me from 911 and its aftermath, I will mention three.  First is the loss of our people.  I spent a lot of time attending funerals and memorials, commemorating these dedicated lives.  I am most aware I ordered these people to work in the Pentagon, sometimes against their wishes.  They went and they served, because I asked them to.  As every leader knows, among the most haunting things is knowing you have sent people to give the ultimate sacrifice.

Next, is knowing what good people can do in extreme circumstances.  Then, we all thought we were working inside a huge and vulnerable target that could be hit again at any moment.  The pressure and stress this put on people was tremendous.  I saw what good leadership, calm and confident and decisive, can do and is what my entire … career had prepared me to do.  Recognizing this, the people who worked for me presented me a beautiful hand made wooden plaque, which I treasure.

Last, is the September 11 voicemail my son left when, not knowing how or where I was, he told me that he hoped I was OK and that he knew I would be and that I should call him soon.  And the email my daughters sent, saying they wished they knew where I was and they would worry until they heard from me.

Those are only three things, out of many I could have mentioned.  But 911 has shaped and changed what I feel about many things, including that life is valuable, vulnerable, fleeting and worth making important moments and memories with people you care about.

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7 Comments »

Comment by HISTORY DETECTIVE

September 11, 2010 @ 2:24 am

We’ve got every jet jock, rocket ace and speed freak in the country here today. It’s going to get high performance and loud. Free ad mission. Free parking. Subject to change without notice.
http://www.wingsoverpittsburgh.com/

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 11, 2010 @ 7:47 am

I am not sure I understand the meaning of History Detective’s comment. At anyrate I do think many things have been learned in the 9 years since that fateful day of 9/11/01 when I was home recovering from exploratory surgery when my wife called to tell me the WTC had been hit by an airplane and to turn on the TV. I did and was just in time to see the second tower attack. Confirmatory of no accident. I also was in N. Arlington County. Retired less than two years from FEMA I decided to analyze the response, including that of Arlington County which for once the DOD leadership understood was the best organization for incident command at the point of attack. The published post-mortem is still the bible on ICS in a large-scale incident even though geographically confined. Hoping Phil and Chris and Jess will give US some posts on lessons learned or not learned as we enter the 10th year since the event.

Comment by HISTORY DETECTIVE

September 11, 2010 @ 7:34 pm

An army of principles can penetrate… Any system of religion that has. …If you don’t get it you never will. Never again. I run a one rung at a time operation. They want to piggyback and that turns into a broomstick situation and you know where the broomstick ends up. The wrong way and it can get uncomfortable and unaffordable. Don’t get caught impersonating a gentleman/take it up.

Comment by HISTORY DETECTIVE

September 11, 2010 @ 7:46 pm

The rain just came. Gods wet work and a spider just crawled across my screen. Web of life. They like to deceive and we like to receive. It’s better to give and love your enemies. You go with that and go to No Point.

Comment by "The Love of Truth....Versus Evil's Delusion and 11th September 2001

September 12, 2010 @ 8:00 am

Sir, thank you for your account of your 11th September 2001 remembrance of this day nine years ago and those Blessed souls, individuals, who under your competent and earned command, willingly served this our beloved Republic and whose ultimte contribution in giving their Life to service will always be remembered by Loved ones and all of us who are so proud to be American striving to uphold those values and our inherent Love in God which inspires us to do our best in contributing daily in some manner to a better world for all!

Thank you, thank you to you Sir and your esteemed colleagues who watch out for us daily, to those at NSA, to DoD and so many others who understand and appreciate the sacrifice those whose preciousness in Life at the Command Center and elsewhere that historic day, when once again we saw as we have in history, fellow Americans, citizens as well as your Armed Forces personnel and those EMT’s, police officers and firefighters at the front lines that day on American soil, dedicated people willing to give Life and like – First Responders – men and women – all stepping forward as they do each and every day in valor, their heroism depicted in standing tall against those seeking the demise of our most charitable people, a nation which in its short history has done so very much for so many people who have always turned to us, our Judeo-Christian ethics and values as a beacon of hope….Never before in humanity in such a short time period has any nation of people so contributed to mankind!

The disparity as well as the depravity and the vile manner of some men with conscious attempt to utilize the Koran in ill manner and/or to manipulate a young person to strap a death belt around his/her waist only promoting generational dysfunctional behavior and disputes especially so ingrained in the sands of the Middle East which has endured generations of such dysfunctional hatred, senseless killing of another, men who prefer to judge others and kill in cold blood the infidel, the Hebrew, the Palestinian, brother and so on and so forth, so many deaths at the hands of those whose coffers often spill over with riches and whose Life is intact, while willingly and knowingly encouraging and deciding to even spill the preciousness of youth in rich Persian blood on the streets of Tehran…a young woman who was so couragious…a Persian people who have like so many differing civilizations, made vast contributions to mankind’s evolution.

Oh, these “Brutes of Tehran” and the “KGB Putinites”…how despicable their agenda and acts of treason towards our Creator who loves all the same and is the only one who can judge another….

….These men of evil with their destiny already written in scripture for our Creator, God is witness to all! Death to the tyrant, to one who fails to afford respect and dignity to fellow human despite differences. While no one has to embrace another, it is the responsibility of all to respect one another despite differences in perspective for we are all, each of us, children of our Creator, God who gave no one the right to inflict judgement and harm on another….

Far too much liberty is taken by man and his hand willing to subject intolerance towards another.

Whether it be flag officers, or the troops stationed globally, those who have sustained harm in previous engagements on the beaches of Normandy or the islands of the Pacific or today in US, NATO and other Afghan/Irag ops, an operation which is necessary to identify those hiding behind women’s garments and children to rape, kill and force their agenda on the unwilling….those less fortunate or not, however unable to defend themselves against brutal force.

We as citizens, fellow Americans with Love in our hearts and souls for these Judeo-Christian values we are to adhere to and profess as a people seeking to rise to what our Creator has asked of us…reaching out to help those less fortunate, those subjected to the brutality of the self-serving.

On the 11th of September, whether it be the rookie or nearly retured police officer, the tired firfighter or the EMT who are always by our side at the desperate 911 call we make seeking assistance often in a time when Life and death are vying for an outcome with precious moments that EMT and first responders as well as dedicated physicians and nursing staffs perform in utilization of their valued skill sets, their expertise and training as well as their prayer….We thank you with all our heart and soul for being an American and to do your utmost to serve on 11th September and everyday.

Today, as a global new business development entrepreneur leading a team of “experts” whose work in “Carbon Nano Tubes” will undoubtedly have such positive affects to the quality of Life for so, so many, I am honored to work with scientists and engineers, individuals with ambition who strive to contribute to mankind.

These men and women earnestly seeking in their commitment to discipline to make Life better for all with none of these dysfunctional traits thwarting their devoted efforts as men and women so Blessed by God to have such vast knowledge and willing to step forward and “truly make a difference!”

Unlike the Goldman Sachs philosophy today where we see even our own house of politicians gripped on both sides of the aisle by self-agenda and grid-locked by self interest groups, unfortunately it is not the generations of Afghans and their Grandgfather’s stone walls erected even in boundary with fellow neighbor which forewarns us of a lost battle, but the disparity within our own local, state and national government where those professing to serve the public are serving ego, agenda and salaries and pensions so unequal to the average working man and woman in America, babyboomers unable to retire, since 2008, foreclosures up 30%, failed modifications for the duped homeowners while $750billion, $750billion in first stimulus monies unaccounted for by “Mr. Barney” and “Smug-smiled Pelosi” and good ‘ol Hank and the fellas, the bankers….

….A bankrupt nation not only trillions in debt, however far more important, bankrupt in leadership at a time when we need someone at the helm who Captain, gives a damn!

I make reference to the devil and God for we must understand that the reality in fact that scriptures point to the time wen Satan was cast down to this world. Read Revelation 12:7-11. All should understand the meaning of this scripture. The Great Tribulation upon us and why we must be vigilant, not to be duped.

We are at war today with demons who hate those of us who Love God and profess our goodness to help other, to other fellow human. We must also be prepared to challenge the wrath of Satan upon us.

Read Revelation 12:12-14…. All has been written w/clarity for you to understand what is taking place today and why we must portray inherent repentence and spiritually discerning, accountable to every word in the Bible. Have you read the Bible?

2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 tells us of the day at hand.

The son of perdition. The son of destruction. Who is this so controlled by Satan?

Many wish to discard God’s truths, however despite this insanity among us and so written in scripture.

Refer to Mathew 4:4. Religious men lawless in tehir ways….Be righteous. Be vigilant. To the White House staff, place the Koran at your desk aside and go to the booktore and buy a Bible to Read 2 Thessalonians 2:7-11.

Only a few years remain for we seemingly turn our cheek to God’s Blessings he continues to seek to bestow upon us.

“The Love of truth….versus Evil’s delusion” a desperate need to learn what is happening today and written with much clarity in scripture, a way to truly understand the significance of the unfortunate and eveil events of the 11th of September 2001 and what will befall all mankind in the days and weeks, the months forthcoming.

Time is of the essence.

Fellow American and to those throughout from shore to shore, be vigilant!

Even among us, from within, lurks those seeking to thrust their sword through the heart of a nation of Judeo-Christian people, our beloved Republic so Blessed with God’s Love, besieged by those seeking to slay our soul which will never succumb to the shortened days of Satan whose work will cause much anguish, much suffering in the days before us, however those with evil within, never to be victorious and only to perish in hell!

God Bless America and those fellow people near and far who understand their Love for God and the genuine compassion for each of us, his children, our Creator takes pride in when he sees us our compassion, our inherent Love for fellow man and scripture which guides us from generation to generation!

Christopher Tingus
CEO & Managing Director
Bibles With Love, Inc.
PO Box 1612
Harwich, MA 02645
chris.tingus@gmail.com

Comment by John Comiskey

September 12, 2010 @ 10:53 am

Nine years and so much has changed and particularly in NYC.

I retired from the NYPD two short months ago and did take pause yesterday -my first 9/11 as a civilian.

First, I acknowledge Police Officer Vincent Danz who I had the opportunity and privilege to serve with in both the NYPD and the US Coast Guard. Vinnie was scheduled for a night tour on September 11, but requested a tour change. Ironically, he did so that to attend an elevator operator course that might help him save people trapped in elevators. So he worked a day tour and responded to the WTC.

Police Officer Vincent Gabriel Danz, Shield # 2166, New York City Police Department, Emergency Service Squad #7 and his fellow rescuers participated in the rescue of over 25,000 people in the World Trade Center on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Vincent called home that day at 0950 hours and left the following message:

Hon, its 9:50 and I’m at the World Trade Center. I’m up in the building. Say a prayer that we get some of these people out. I’m OK but say a prayer for me. I love you.

Vincent perished in the towers. He represents all the homeland security practitioners, professional and civilian who died in the service of their country on that fateful day.
Fidelis ad mortem.
———————————————

I was off duty when the planes struck. I had just dropped my then 5 and 7 year olds off at PS 184 when I received a phone call that a plane had struck the WTC. I drove to work a mere 2 miles away. Everyone was running around and getting into police cars. I soon learned that a second plane had crashed into the second tower. The NYPD radio was garbled mania. My unit, the Queens North Task Force caravanned to the city. On the way we could see both towers still standing. Moments later we entered the city via the Midtown tunnel. By this time the radio was more garbled and seemingly endless screams for help went out. We did not know that the first tower had collapsed. Minutes later we staged at Chambers St and the West Side Highway.

NYPD Lt. Angelo Carbone (also a Volunteer Fire Chief) told me and Captain Bonifati that we were in a collapse zone. I told him that he was out of his mind. I had responded to the 1993 WTC bombing and the building held up. I was wrong. A roar that I can still hear attacked us, the ground shook, a police officer began shooting out a building window to gain access and cover from the debris; three firemen to my right made the sign of the cross, knelt down, held hands and prayed; a peaceful calm came over -I thought we were all done for so I too prayed and then ran with everyone else.

Soon thereafter we reassembled and sent out teams to rescue the survivors. I knew -we all knew that friends and colleagues were dead. I was unable to contact my sister Tara, then a rookie police officer. I knew she responded and that was all (I later learned that she was okay.)

By the day’s end (about 0300 hours) all the teams from my unit returned to base. Mostly we helped the walking wounded. I remember passing by a hospital and a doctor asking me where the wounded where -where was the patient surge -I didn’t have an answer for him -we knew that few if any could have survived -thousands of people were dead -and there was nothing we could do. I never felt so helpless in my life. I prayed so hard it made me cry – but I just didn’t have time for that. I promised God I would check in with tomorrow and that I needed all that he would give me in the immediacy. I needed to be life-time strongest this day. I think I was -I think we were. (I know that God answered that pray.)

Policing and particularly policing in NYC now includes unprecedented counterterrorism, intelligence, and preparedness. It is not perfect; it is better than September 10.

I am now teaching and learning from current and future homeland security leaders. We’re not sure we are going or how we are going to get there. We do know that America and humanity should not suffer another 9/11 and we will do everything we can think of and those things we have not thought of yet to prevent terrorism and preserve, in some admirable form, our way of life.

Pericles funeral oration beseeched the ancient Greeks not to lament their war dead. Instead they should offer them praise and not with words, but deed -deeds worthy of the way they lived -the highest praise.
We have some guidance -mostly common sense and a 4000+ word document -the US Constitution to lead the way.

Nothing worthwhile is easy. The American way of life is very much worthwhile.

God Bless America

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 13, 2010 @ 12:33 am

Post Script! The key failure since 9/11/01 is the failure of Congress to address its organizational failures with respect to terrorism. Proof of course is failure to produce umbrella HS legislation since that date.

The key success is one that some may well disagree with! The general recognition that military force is not going to be able to successfully control terrorism by non-state actors. Thus prevention of terrorism like prevention of successful nuclear attack is not likely to be comprehensive.

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