National Guard September 2011 : Page 34
G UARD R OOTS : 10 TH A NNIVERSARY OF 9/11 ‘We haven’t forgotten one second of what happened that day’ Ground Zero Twisted rubble was all that remained of the World Trade Center by 10 a.m. Sept. 11. New York National Guard 34 | Na tional Guard
10th Anniversary of 9/11
GUARD ROOTS: 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF 9/11
'We haven't forgotten one second of what happened that day'
Ground Zero Twisted rubble was all that remained of the World Trade Center by 10 a.m. Sept. 11.
New York National Guard
By Andrew Waldman
Most Americans remember exactly where they were when New York and Washington were attacked on Sept. 11. Some Guardsmen can recall even more. They were there New York
TEN YEARS AFTER the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the site of the World Trade Center, now commonly known as Ground Zero, is a massive construction zone.
Not much remains of the old World Trade Center complex. One of the structures that collapsed that day, 7 World Trade Center, adjacent to the two towers, has been rebuilt. The new One World Trade Center tower is far from completion.
Two waterfalls mark the footprints of the Twin Towers that collapsed and took nearly 3,000 lives with them. Tourists snap photos and view memorials. New Yorkers briskly weave through the crowded streets to their jobs.
Things seem pretty normal these days in lower Manhattan.
But for Maj. Vincent Heintz, a New York National Guardsman, the site still conjures vivid memories of an awful day.
On 9/11, Heintz was a captain and commander of C Company, 1st Battalion, 105th Infantry, and had recently returned from an exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. He hadn't even unpacked his rucksack.
Even as he sat on a motionless subway beneath 8th Avenue, Heintz didn't think anything was out the ordinary. Subway delays were common.
He was just anxious to get to his office, don a business suit and start his day as an assistant district attorney.
Emerging a few blocks from the World Trade Center, he saw dust in the air. A lot of dust. His cell phone had no service.
Something wasn't right.
Heintz found a nearby bar filled with off-duty postal workers and called his battalion headquarters, the state headquarters and a few other offices.
He was told that a plane—later identified as American Airlines Flight 11—had collided with the North Tower of the World Trade Center just before 9 a.m.; a few minutes later, another airplane—United Flight 175—struck the South Tower.
First responders were everywhere. Heintz knew his soldiers would be needed.
Using contacts he'd made in his civilian career, he secured vehicles and gathered information. He spoke with members of the New York police and fire departments about what they needed for the response.
He even helped wash out the eyes of firefighters returning from the scene.
In short, he became one of the first Guardsmen to transition from a strategic reserve to an operational force in the war on terrorism.
Because of his proximity to the attack, Heintz's story is unique. But his volunteerism was not.
Lt. Col. Chris Daniels, who was an auditor at a Manhattan firm and the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, on 9/11, saw a plume of smoke rising from downtown.
He didn't learn of the attacks until a Chicago colleague called and told what he'd seen on television. Minutes later, Daniels was on his way to the 69th Regiment's armory in Manhattan.
"We started to assemble troops," he says. "There were a lot of [soldiers] who just came to the armory. There was no real need for a roster."
Those soldiers included Staff Sgt. John Byrnes, a member of Heintz's platoon. He had been in a class at Hunter College on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
He rushed to the Seventh Regiment Armory near the college and commandeered maps of the city from a local bookstore.
By the time Daniels was ready to go to Ground Zero, he had 500 Guardsmen on hand. They marched through the streets on foot, which, he says, brought some relief to the people of New York.
Confusion was the buzzword of those first few days at Ground Zero. No formal orders came immediately to activate Guardsmen. Many worked as volunteers in the first hours of the mission.
Throughout the initial response, many of the people at the site hadn't heard the reports of terrorism as the cause. They were singularly focused on recovery.
"You have to understand, there was no frame of reference for this type of thing," says Heintz. "We thought there might be 250,000 people dead."
And there was no playbook for this sort of attack. Col. Dawne Deskins and Senior Master Sgt. Maureen Dooley knew this well. Both New York Air Guardsmen were working at the Northeast Air Defense Sector operations center in Rome, N.Y.
At the time, NEADS was in charge of spotting enemy aircraft entering U.S. airspace, not commercial airliners being flown as missiles into targets inside the United States.
By coincidence, NEADS was going to start a training scenario that day in which one of the potential scenarios was a hijacked aircraft. As the exercise began, one of the members of the identification team received a call from the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control center in Boston regarding the hijacked Flight 11.
"I wanted to make sure he wasn't crossing the streams with the exercise," she says.
Deskins attempted to locate the Boeing 767 on her radar scope, but couldn't. NEADS, however, scrambled fighter jets, which ultimately located the aircraft too late to intervene.
After the flight hit the North Tower, NEADS tried to locate as many fighter aircraft as possible. Again, Guard units around the nation responded. Pilots had already started reporting to their bases.
"Because of that Guard culture to respond to the defense of the country, they were able to generate aircraft to become airborne," says Deskins. "Any Guard unit we called, there was no question."
Dooley, now a flight superintendent at the center, says her fellow Air Guardsmen in the room were silent throughout the majority of the day.
"It was almost like everyone got in a robotic state and did what we knew how to do so well," she says. "The hardest thing was getting people to go home at the end of the day."
While NEADS had a bird's eye view of the events of 9/11, those on the ground in New York did not. Many worked tirelessly for days with little knowledge of anything going on anywhere but in their area of responsibility.
At Ground Zero, Heintz and his company took up residence in the lobby of an office building just blocks from the scene. They spent two weeks providing security to the fire department as it picked through the rubble in search of survivors and the remains of victims.
For days, he stationed men along the streets whose sole purpose was to watch the battered skyscrapers around Ground Zero for any debris falling from them.
Daniels and his men searched through buildings for residents who may have returned to their homes or hadn't left in the first place. They rescued pets left behind and retrieved valuable items for citizens.
They also searched for remains in neighboring buildings and on rooftops.
Daniels says that the 69th's armory quickly became a grieving center for families. When his unit would return to the armory each day, family members would plead for the soldiers to return to Ground Zero.
"They would say, 'You have to go back and find my father, my mother, my brother,'" he says. "That was really rough."
It is one of his most vivid memories from that terrible time.
THE PENTAGON ATTACK
New York was the epicenter for the attacks, but another plane controlled by terrorists hit the Pentagon shortly after the strikes in Manhattan.
That flight, American Flight 77, struck the outer west wall of the Pentagon, known as the E-Ring, and killed 125 people inside. Fifty-nine people on the flight also perished.
Retired Brig. Gen. Robert Taylor, a former NGAUS chairman and assistant adjutant general of Michigan, happened to be in Washington for a four-day meeting at which Army Guard and Reserve leaders were to discuss policy issues.
The Army's operations conference room, which was the site of the meeting that Tuesday morning, is in E-Ring.
"It was just a tremendous blow to the building. I didn't think it was an airplane," says Taylor. "We all knew we were in big trouble. We got up and decided it was time to get out of the Pentagon."
Coincidentally, Taylor says the meeting's usual location in the personnel conference room would have put the group directly in the zone where Flight 77 struck the building.
Minutes later, masses of Pentagon workers were being corralled in the south parking lot. Taylor and others decided to leave. Not yet knowing the cause of the explosion that had rocked the Pentagon, Taylor went back to his hotel room and learned from news reports that the country was being attacked.
"It was a feeling, I guess, of being sick to your stomach," he says.
Later, Taylor learned that Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude, Army deputy chief of staff for personnel, was killed in the attack. Taylor had spoken with Maude the day before.
Across the Potomac River at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Maj. Heather "Lucky" Penney was in debriefings after her fighter squadron, the 121st Fighter Squadron of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, had participated in a RED FLAG exercise.
When she and the other F-16 pilots heard of the World Trade Center attacks, they couldn't wait to get in their cockpits. But with none of their birds loaded with munitions and no word from the chain of command that they were authorized to launch, they sat and waited.
Finally, after the Pentagon was hit, an extraordinary order came from the Secret Service on behalf of Vice President Dick Cheney.
"It was our job to go find the other airliner that they thought was coming down [toward Washington]," says Penney.
At the time, no one knew that flight was United Airlines Flight 93, which would crash in Shanksville, Pa., as a result of what is believed to be actions taken by passengers. All 40 crew members and passengers died.
Penney and Col. Marc "Sass" Sasseville, her lead pilot, were in the air and searching. And because their birds had been loaded with only 105 rounds of ammunition, they devised a way to bring down the airliner.
"Sass's plan was to ram the cockpit. My plan was to ram the tail," she says.
Penney says that their chilling decision to sacrifice themselves didn't register as anything but the right thing to do.
"[We] were generally mission focused on what we needed to do to protect our nation's capital," says Penney. "It all seemed very surreal. To be honest, my singular attention was on what I had to do right."
After Flight 93 crashed, the 121st started combat air patrols around Washington. Later, Penney would brief defense leaders on what she experienced that day.
Taylor was on his way back to Detroit, courtesy of a flight arranged by the National Guard Bureau. Once he arrived home, he called in troops to protect key Michigan locations, like power plants, chemical manufacturers and infrastructure.
"I had no authority to call people to active duty," he recalls. "The decisions were made from the gut to do what's right for the country."
THE NEXT DAY
Days and weeks passed and many things started to change in the National Guard.
In New York, Guardsmen worked for weeks at Ground Zero. Heintz and his company stayed on duty for two weeks. Daniels and his men were there for seven days.
But the changes in the National Guard had begun when the attacks started on 9/11.
Soldiers who had joined the Guard to get college tuition benefits were staring down a future that would be radically different.
Daniels says he remembers having a conversation with his brigade commander just before the attacks about whether or not he could expect future combat deployments.
"He said, 'Relax Chris, we're never going anywhere unless the Chinese march through Brooklyn,'" Daniels remembers.
"I had joined at the age of 18 as a hobby," he says. "9/11 changed my hobby into a life."
Maj. John-Michael Insetta, another New York Guardsman, watched the attacks on television from Camp Smith about 50 miles north of New York.
But he was soon in his home city of New York leading the security checkpoint missions at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports in the city.
For many Guardsmen, that was the first mission in which they held loaded weapons while surrounded by civilians.
"There was kind of a feeling-out period. [Guardsmen] were armed—they had loaded M-16s—but we didn't have any authority to arrest anyone," he says. "I think everyone was kind of on edge at the beginning."
Daniels and his soldiers were put in charge of guarding bridges around New York. Heintz and Byrnes went on duty at Kennedy airport to support the security mission that Insetta was also working.
All the Army Guardsmen in this story were eventually deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Penney, now the mother of two and working for Lockheed Martin, has left the F-16 cockpit to fly for the 113th Wing's VIP transport mission.
Deskins and Dooley, who were both at NEADS in Rome, N.Y., still work there, though it has become the Eastern Air Defense Sector because of a merger. EADS has new equipment that can track almost every flight in the country.
Dooley says her airmen are as vigilant today as they were 10 years ago.
"I just want people to understand that we still have so many people that come into work every day who are giving their lives and time," she says. "We haven't forgotten one second of what happened that day."
For many Guardsmen that responded to the attacks on Sept. 11, the mission was successful in that they showed the force and stability the country needed in a confusing and frightening time.
Unfortunately, Guardsmen weren't able to save many victims in New York. Only a few people survived the collapse of the two towers.
Heintz remembers leaving Ground Zero. He and his company assumed a road march formation for the trip uptown.
As they passed through the streets, many people cheered them on. He could see tears in the eyes of his men.
"We didn't save anyone," he says. "We didn't produce any sort of peace for them."
Andrew Waldman can be contacted at (202) 408-5892 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two Hours That Changed America
American Airlines Flight 11 departs Boston Logan International Airport bound for Los Angeles.
United Airlines Flight 175, departs Boston Logan also bound for Los Angeles.
American Airlines Flight 77 departs from Washington Dulles International Airport bound for Los Angeles.
The Boston FAA Air Traffic Control Center notifies the Massachusetts Air Guard's 102nd Fighter Wing of the hijacking. The 102nd passes them on to NEADS.
Boston Center control notifies NEADS of the hijacking of Flight 11. The Boston controller requests military help to intercept the jetliner.
United Airlines Flight 93 departs Newark International Airport (now Newark Liberty International Airport) bound for San Francisco.
NEADS scrambles two F-15s from the 102nd and orders them to locate and intercept Flight 11.
Flight 11 crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Flight 175 crashes into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
FAA's New York Center notifies NEADS of the hijacking of Flight 175.
F-16s from North Dakota's 119th Fighter Wing scramble out of Langley Air Force Base, Va.
The 102nd's F-15s establish a combat air patrol over Manhattan.
An unarmed Minnesota Air Guard C-130 flying near Washington, D.C., is ordered to identify and follow Flight 77.
Flight 77 crashes into the western side of the Pentagon, killing 64 people on board (including the hijackers) and 125 in the Pentagon.
United Flight 93 crashes in Shanksville, Pa., following what is believed to be a passenger revolt against the hijackers.
F-16 fighters from the 121st Fighter Squadron of the D.C. Air Guard secure the national capital airspace
"They would say, 'You have to go back and find my father, my mother, my brother.' That was really rough."
—Lt. Col. Christopher Daniels
42nd Infantry Division Headquarters
"It was almost like everyone got in a robotic state and did what we knew how to do so well."
Senior Master Sgt. Maureen Dooley
Flight Superintendent, Eastern Air Defense Sector
Read the full article at http://www.nationalguardmagazine.com/article/10th+Anniversary+of+911/817526/79476/article.html.