Three guest speakers shared how the events of 9/11 affected them during a commemoration luncheon Monday at the Commons. Hosted by the Fort Drum Garrison Chaplain’s Office, the event welcomed community members to partake in fellowship, prayer and reflection over the tragic loss of life after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
For Fort Drum Fire Capt. Robert Tennies, 9/11 affirmed what was most valuable to him – people, life and time.
Tennies said that he was on duty training on hazardous material response when the attack at the World Trade Center occurred. The station crew watched the events unfold on TV, and Tennies said that everyone agreed that if they were in New York City just then, they would all be climbing the tower stairs to help save lives.
"The next day the call came for me to respond to New York City," Tennies said. "Being a veteran, I said, ‘Absolutely, I’m a firefighter, I will go.’"
Tennies said that what he witnessed at Ground Zero was both heart-breaking and life-changing. He said that it caused him to value people more, and value what they can do in times of unimaginable tragedy.
"We come together for one another, and those moments in time we forget race, we forget creed, we forget color. We just come together to help each other. We are more full of good than we are of bad, and these times and these days when we come together, it shines through."
Tennies said that so much life was taken that day that he refuses to take it for granted anymore.
"We have come to realize how truly short life is, how precious and fragile it is," he said. "When facing our own fears and doubts, find that inner strength – but not for ourselves, but for that brother or sister or our neighbor who is in need."
Tennies said that time is also a gift that shouldn’t be wasted.
"Some things we can’t change, and we don’t get to call a timeout in life or wish we could turn back time and change a certain situation," he said.
Theresa Donahoe, wife of Brig. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, former 10th Mountain Division (LI) deputy commander for operations, said that her Family was stationed at Fort Riley, Kan., on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. She was taking her infant daughter to the child development center when she heard on the radio about a plane crash in New York City.
Donahoe said that it had not been reported as a terrorist attack yet, but she felt a sense of unease. Looking at the faces of CDC staff and other parents, she saw no signs of anxiety, and no one was speculating that this was anything more than a terrible accident.
"I returned to my car and began to drive back home," she said, "and that’s when I heard the report of the second plane hitting the Twin Towers, and this time, in that reporter’s voice, I heard that sense of urgency and I heard him begin to use terms like ‘under attack’ and ‘terrorism.’"
Donahoe said her first thought was to take her daughter home, and then she thought of her husband who was on a routine task force in Kuwait. She feared for his safety.
"I remember many things about that day and about the days that followed," she said. "One of the biggest that stands out is the constant coverage on the radio and TV. I remember trying to shield my 19-month-old from those images and from my reaction to them. I remember waking up one night on post, hearing aircraft overhead and feeling really afraid, because I wasn’t sure they were supposed to be there at that time. I remember feeling for the first time, really, really afraid for Pat."
Since then, Donahoe said her husband has deployed several times and their three daughters have experienced many reunions with their father.
"They know that even when he’s home, many of the parents of their friends may very well be deployed," she said. "They know their mom has served on care teams for our fallen Families and has attended countless memorial services. We count as personal friends several Gold Star Families now, and we know that many of our peers do the same. Our kids have an awareness of events going on halfway across the world, and they have a knowledge of things far beyond their years."
Those life changes since 9/11 have become routine, Donahoe said. Security checks at the gates are a certainty, as much as another deployment.
"But my prayer is that the acts of terror themselves never become routine," she said. "Our natural response to them will always be with horror, devastation and grief at these kinds of events, but we will also respond with courage and compassion and a resolve to recognize and hold tight those things which we hold dear."
Chaplain (Maj.) James Key, 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade chaplain, said that the events of 9/11 gave him the resolve to enter the Army Chaplain Corps. He was discussing the chaplaincy with a fellow Howard University graduate who was trying to convince him to join the team. That is when a commercial airplane hit the first tower.
"The decision to join the Chaplain Corps was no longer a conversation I needed to continue," he said. "My mind was made up; it was very clear."
The call to serve God and country, he said, was the best decision he ever made. Key said that the attacks on the U.S. shattered the nation’s sense of security, but Americans rallied and looked beyond their differences to demonstrate acts of kindness beyond reproach.
"Make no mistake, the images of 9/11 brought us not just the tragedy of the hour, but also acts of goodwill that reflect the true character of our great nation," Key said.
Sixteen years later, as troops continue to rotate through deployments, Key said that our military still exemplifies the national will that "We will not be defeated."
"It’s who we are, it’s our identity as a nation," he said. "No, we’re not a flawless nation but at our best, every day, our better angels inspire us to become more than a perfect union. At our best, we’re greater than the sum of our parts."
"At our best, Team America is tough enough to fight, tender enough to cry, human enough to make mistakes, humble enough to admit them, strong enough to absorb the pain and resilient enough to bounce back and keep on moving. That’s who we are."