Chapter 4 Generations
Updated: Nov 29, 2019
“The more we value things the less we value ourselves” ~Bruce Lee
While putting the information together for these posts a lot of time has been spent doing research. Hours of watching documentaries and reading through historic documents and articles on the web. During all these copious notes are taken and there is a lot of reading and re-reading.
This point is brought up for 2 reasons, later we are going to dig much deeper into the TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) during this we will talk about the battle of short-term memory and comprehension of stuff. This alone proposes its own battle, as every moment passes an idea comes and the first thought is this needs to be covered if a note is not made then it will be forgotten. This may explain why sometimes things seem a little out of order or spontaneous.
This is also pertinent because during this research one of the key focus points is making a running comparison of the warriors who paved the way before us. There is always a lookout for evidence that they have faced the same physical, emotional and psychological struggles.
In no way would there ever be a way to compare these issues between the generations that have served our country and faced the rigors of combat. In my eyes, everyone who ever put on a uniform before me was not only heroes but role models for us all.
This has left me somewhat stuck on the differences in the generations and how I am forced to question my value as a man and warrior. I just can not seem to navigate around how in the early years of our nation men walked into combat in the Napoleonic style, faced the enemy eye to eye and fought. They walked into each battle knowing that the odds were extreme that the man to the left or right, their friends and comrades would probably not make it home. This even fades in comparison that they had to face their own mortality.
** Interesting note for some that may become more prevalent in future posts- If you look back at the uniforms from the early days you can see they all had a rather High Collar. Many say that this collar design was much more than show, with the high collar the soldier would be limited in their ability to turn their head left or right, in turn reducing the risk of them seeing what happened to the men next to them.
As our nation developed and grew the military and warfare changed. In the World Wars trench warfare and a less structured type of fighting became the standard. This did not change the effects or reality that any of these soldiers still faced the harsh reality of injury and death, they still had of dealt with the psychological and physical effects. Then the progression to the war in Vietnam, here anything traditional or standard seemed to have gone out the window.
Only in my opinion but in many ways, I have a very special admiration for the soldiers who went off to a strange jungle to fight this war. Leaving all the political and social issue these men fought in a combat that they had no way to know who the enemy was, where they might hide, and how they would fight.
The prevalence in post-combat psychological issues in the Vietnam veterans makes so much sense, these men took and executed in a challenge much more intense than any of us may understand. However, the effects of war have always been there. The farther you dig the more in every generation you will find evidence of “Shell Shock, or Battle Fatigue or PTS”. I just hope to understand why the older generations seemed to manage so much better.
By midday September 11th, 2001 the reality of the situation had still not set in, by now we had made it back to our home base and had geared up into combat gear. Many of us had drawn weapons and were on standby for orders. This was one of the first times I was somewhat stumped. I sat in a holding area combat gear on, weapon in hand, getting the initial brief that our platoon was going to take on Guard Duty on our base. Joining us would be 1st Platoon meanwhile 3rd Platoon would be gearing up to go provide support at the Pentagon. The 4th Platoon would be supporting on the guard duties as well as providing additional people if they are needed at the crash site.
Still I had not received ammunition, now in my thinking if we had just fallen under attack and the risk was still unclear, arming the people who were about to go on guard would make sense. Yet no ammunition was distributed, we were assigned guard positions by squad and off we went with nothing more than a really expensive club.
Initially my squad was assigned to gate guard, once we arrived at the gate, we were instructed to load a magazine as if we were locked and loaded and be ready for whatever may happen.
In the chaos we realized we really did not have enough people to cover all the positions, over the next several hours in the baking September D.C. sun we stood guard with a weapon and no ammo and 20 pounds of gear.
As late afternoon came things started to settle into a routine, our platoon had been relieved of guard duty by 4th platoon and we were informed that we would finally see our first few moments to sit and gather our thoughts.
That did not last long.
Before we were even able to grab a meal, new orders were already coming down. Our company had been called on to move to the Pentagon and provide interior guard on a portion of the building. In what seemed to be like minutes but was more like an hour or two we had reset all our gear and we're sitting in a formation waiting for trucks.
Not long before the sun began to set on the fateful day, we loaded up into cargo trucks known as LMTV’s and off we went. The drive from Fort Mcnair to the Pentagon is short, no more than 4 or 5 miles. By now the roads in and around D.C. were pretty much abandoned, it was a rather unsettling feeling driving down a road that normally would have been stuffed full of 5 o’clock traffic but our convoy of 3 or 4 trucks were the only thing moving.
When we arrived at the Pentagon the senior leadership was immediately pulled away and briefed on our mission. When they returned the information we were provided was bland. All we were told was that we were being moved to the interior halls of a “specific” portion of the building and were to stand guard. We were then told we would receive further information once inside and it was time to de-truck.
Because I was a newer private my place on the truck was in the middle on the floor, toward the front of the truck, in the army you must earn most everything, this includes a seat in the back of a cargo truck.
Being surrounded by 25 or 20 tired hungry dirty soldiers I was not able to take in the atmosphere of where we had just arrived. That was seriously about to change.
Jumping off the truck it was like a brick to the face, the offensive smell of burning material with an undertone of jet fuel. Even with the setting sun you could feel the heat radiating from the building and you could feel the urgency and intensity.
We were quickly forming up and waiting for our escort into the building when the third platoon had arrived to load on to the trucks for their return to base. In a short conversation with a couple of their guys they had not accomplished anything during their afternoon, because of the burning fire and heat no recovery operation were able to start. It was not long before our escort began to walk us through a maze of hallways leading us into the bowels of this massive building. Still to this day, I could not tell you how we managed to get to our post. This probably is a mix of lack of memory related to the TBI and the intensity of the situation in which recording anything to memory at this point was next to impossible, (Or so I thought)
The farther we got into the building the stronger the smells became, I am still not sure exactly how far we actually were from the impact site but by the smell and feel it could not have been very far.
Once we reached our post, we were further briefed that NO ONE, NO MATTER WHAT THEIR RANK, NO MATTER WHAT THEIR CREDENTIALS were allowed into any of the rooms in this hall. The hall had to have been 25 or so yards long with a tall ceiling, on each side of the hall there were huge fancy wooden doors, just looking at the doors you could feel how heavy they probably were. Upon my first short walk down the hall I realized we must be pretty close to the impact area, most of the doors had been shifted in the jam, this allowed for gaps between the door and wall where you could clearly look into these rooms. (Yes, I looked, Yes, the severity of the situation came even more clear once I realized the rooms we were guarding. Without divulging too much information, a small wall and heavy door were the only things between us and some of the most sensitive war and operational information in the world)
This again proved to make me question so many things, here we stood amongst a lot of very sensitive information and now we didn’t even have a club much less be properly armed with weapon and ammunition.
It was this night that I witnessed some of the most impressive leadership sacrifice that I would see in my career. No, it had nothing to do with risking injury or taking chances, but the personal sacrifice made a huge impact on me.
When the early hours of the morning came along none of us knew anything of what was going on, we only knew that most of us hade been awake for going on 24 hours and had not had a moment to sit and take in all of the activities of the day. Around 4 am we received word that our replacements would be held up and that we should be ready to hold our position for a while.
It was now when our squad leader and a man that still to this day I put on a pedestal knew we had to find a way to rest, we will call him SSG Mark. He rearranged things so that all the area was guarded but he could get some time for each of us to rest. I was third or fourth to get to lay down, we all took turns propping yourself up in some hallway chairs and closing our eyes for 30 minutes. When my 30 minutes came up I sat down and looked across the hall to see SSG Mark leaning against the wall and obviously struggle with his own exhaustion. Feeling that I was obligated to support my fellow man I got up went to him and asked if he would like to take my rest time so that he could refresh. In a stern way he had a gift for using he used words I may never forget “A leader sees that his men are taken care of first” “Go lay down”. It may have been being too tired to argue or simply knowing better I turned around and propped myself in the chairs.
I did not really sleep, between being very uncomfortable and still trying to process the events of the day sleep evaded me.
Around 6 am we got word our replacements had arrived. Like a flash we were up ready and waiting to move back to the trucks. I am very sure I could not repeat the walk back to the trucks, being that tired trying to process any valuable information would have been next to impossible. Once we arrived outside the morning sun was a rude awakening, but it felt nice, meanwhile the offensive smalls and feeling had only seemed to intensify while we held up in our interior guard post.
I doubt anyone man was able to keep their eyes open for the short ride back to Ft. Mcnair, I know that within moments of landing my tail on the floor of the truck I was out.
Initially, on our return we were told that we would have a few hours downtime, our instructions were to hustle to our rooms and sleep. But, duty had other plans, it seemed that additional guard duties had come up at the scene, because 3rd platoon had already shipped back for recovery duties and 1st and 4th platoon were somewhat rested even with pulling guard for the base most of the night most of the 1st platoon was selected and a portion for 4th. Immediately upon this new development we were woken up and distributed for the guard. The good news to the situation was because we now only had to provide a gate guard for 2 gates and a roving guard to walk around the post, we could leave 1 squad down to rest. This translated to 2 squads on the gate, 1 squad roving, and 1 squad resting. The rest of the day we would rotate 1 hour in each place accumulated with a 1-hour nap.
This schedule continues for the next 24 hours, meals were scarfed down any moment you could find, and rest was short but needed.
By now the nation was 48 hours post-attack, they had finally controlled the fire enough to begin recovery operations and our mission was about to change.
In the next cycle we will talk about the real exposure to the terror and misery that happened on that day. Facing death in a new way and seeing the impact of what had happened.
Here is something to think on, each day that went by during this time I probably could not tell you any of these details. During the time of these events the sleep cycle was so short I don’t think I ever really had a chance to dream or remember any of the day’s activities. It was during my first long sleep that I was able to recall some minor details. A few years ago during a very intense personal struggle all of the memories and details of that day came rushing back to me. It took me weeks to process it all.