Sunday, September 11, 2011

Memories of 9-11-01

On Monday, September 10th, 2001 I got off duty for a two-week R&R at 18:00 (6 pm) and left the pump station in reasonably high spirits.  Moose hunting season was open, and I was to meet my hunting partner at the Nenana boat launch the next morning for a boat ride to his very remote hunting camp on the Wood River.  We'd been planning this hunt for months, and I was jazzed about it.  My gear was already packed and staged in the garage so all I had to do was toss my stuff in the truck and hit the road.  It was going to be GREAT.

Of course I also had some concerns.  Job security was high among them, as our client was planning to cut the security force by nearly 40%.  I wasn't sure I had enough seniority to survive the big cut coming up, but hey - it was R&R time and time to put such concerns away for a while.

On the way home I met my wife at Two Rivers Lodge, where we gleefully celebrated our reunion with a good meal in great company before heading to the house.  I slept well that night, enjoying dreams of moose steaks, roasts and 'burgers as I lay in my wife's arms.  Life was good.  I could even sleep in a little bit.  It would take Bob a bit to get from camp to the boat launch, so I didn't need to be there until mid-morning.

At 5 o'clock my wife shook me awake.  "You need to see the news on the TV.", she said as a forced one eye open.

"What's up?" I asked.

She just shook her head.  "You need to see this." was all she said.

I stumbled up the stairs to the kitchen, poured a cup of coffee and sat down just in time to see the smoke coming from one of the World Trade Center towers, and at 5:03 I saw on live television the second aircraft crash into the the south tower.

I immediately knew that I would not be hunting moose, nor would I be enjoying R and R at home.  I called the office with just one question - "Where do you need me?"  I was on the road, fully armed and mentally ready for whatever I might encounter in less than half an hour.

Like most Americans, I was shocked and royally pissed off.  Even before we received any sort of direction from our short-handed management we locked down our pump station tighter than a bull's ass at fly-time.  Not a single vehicle or person passed through that gate without a damned good reason to be on station, and a very thorough search.  We walked the perimeter, a good mile and 1/2 hike, every hour.  Even though we were short on help, we were long on resolve.

Of course it didn't take long for folks who were handy with graphics to put out art that reflected our feelings and within a few days of 9-1-11 we had a new poster hanging next to the door on the inside of our guard shack.

The numbers of killed and injured reported by the media were hard to take.  I've spent my entire adult life working in emergency services.  There is a fellowship among cops, firefighters and paramedics that is difficult to explain but it's very real.  We feel a kinship even with colleagues we've never met, and never will.  It's deep and even 3,000 miles away in a remote industrial site of little consequence in the overall scheme of things, we felt the grief of loss.  343 firefighters, 60 cops and 15 paramedics were killed outright when the towers collapsed.  Approximately 2,000 (2 THOUSAND) first responders were injured.

I am still proud of the way my company responded.  We were already short-handed in the field, and facing even more severe cuts.  Everyone who could possibly return to work did so.  We were able to increase the numbers of patrols out in the field and on October 4th we proved our abilities when stupid drunken Danny Lewis shot a hole in the pipe.  Within minutes the leak was discovered by a helicopter patrol, Danny was located, tracked and apprehended by our personnel with law enforcement and FBI agents were 'standing by' up on the roadway.

EVERYONE'S life changed after 9/11.  Without question not all of those changes have been positive.  We've lost a lot of the freedoms we enjoyed prior to 9-11.  I feel that loss acutely, especially when I travel yet that is not our greatest loss.  Our greatest loss, which can never be regained no matter what may happen in the future, is the loss of our National sense of innocence and security.  I seriously doubt that Americans will ever again be so trusting as we once were, and that is loss that goes well beyond our own national borders. 

Please note the time this entry is posted - 5:03 am, Alaska time is 9:03 am eastern time, the moment the south tower was struck.

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