A Fellowship of Public Servants
The response to the Pentagon attack involved the coordination of resources from all over the greater Washington D.C. area – and not just from fire, EMS and law enforcement personnel. Ron Carlee, who was Arlington’s County Manager on 9/11 – and whose initials have since been welded into the keel of the USS Arlington – pointed out that every single agency in the Arlington County government had a role.
It was the Parks and Recreation Department, Carlee said, who set up the 2,000 feet of fencing that established a security perimeter around the heliport lawn. One of the key figures in the response turned out to be Larry Callan, the Arlington County Public Schools electrician, who managed to string lights through the dense smoke and illuminate the area for firefighters. When volunteers and contractors arrived to provide food service for the first responders, said Carlee, “we deployed our restaurant inspectors to inspect all of the food preparation and service. Our library personnel set up a twenty-four hour hotline and provided information services to people with questions about what was going on, and helped construct our proactive communication to keep people updated externally. Our public works guys handled trash collection, serviced all the vehicles and did fuel deliveries for small equipment. We used every single one of our assets.”
“I saw the very worst things I had seen in my career as a police officer – and the very best. It was horrendous to see it and be a part of the first response, but it was also, in my very humble view, a privilege to be part of it, because typically our military is protecting us, and as civilian law enforcement and public safety officers, we were in a position to help protect them.”
Throughout the operations, recalled Stephen Holl, responders were overwhelmed with the support of ordinary citizens from around the area. Across from the Pentagon, on a grassy slope near where the Air Force Memorial now stands, civilians began to congregate soon after the attacks, some of them family members of the victims. “That’s where the makeshift memorial started, where people started bringing flowers and candles and posters, where they wrote some really very touching things,” said Holl, who is currently chief of the MWAA police force. “One day I decided I needed a break, and so I had somebody drive me up there. I walked through the crowd, and I said to them: ‘Hey, thanks for being here. The first responders can see you all up here, and it’s really heartening to know you all are behind us.’ I asked a couple of them: ‘Why are you here?’ And they just said, ‘I had to be near the site. I had to be a part of it.’”
Virginia State Trooper Mike Middleton, who nearly died after running into the burning building – the heat of the inferno melted his metal name plate, and he still wears the badge blackened by the scorch marks received on that day – returned to work on Nov. 1, 2011. “The daily daunting tasks of recovering bodies, collecting the debris of the plane – I was not involved in any of that,” he said. “Some of my friends, who were, talked about working seventeen- and twenty-hour days, getting two hours of sleep, and then getting up and going right back to do it all over again.”
“Looking back,” said Richard Keevill, who is now Chief of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, “I saw the very worst things I had seen in my career as a police officer – and the very best. It was horrendous to see it and be a part of the first response, but it was also, in my very humble view, a privilege to be part of it, because typically our military is protecting us, and as civilian law enforcement and public safety officers, we were in a position to help protect them.”
After the conclusion of every twenty-four week training course, Arlington County Fire recruits are taken to the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial, on the southwest lawn of the building, where they are told the story of that day. “We ask them to remember what we’re telling them,” Chief Schwartz said, “and to carry forward the sacrifices that were made – if not in exactly the same way, at least in the spirit of what the fire service represents to communities, how we stepped up with our partners and acted in a way that served others.”
Every firehouse in Arlington County – Schwartz, who was the keynote speaker at the USS Arlington’s christening ceremony on March 26, 2011, has seen to it – bears a framed copy of the USS Arlington’s seal, whose symbols evoke the significance of what happened at the Pentagon, both to the victims of the attacks and to the first responders from law enforcement, fire and rescue, and EMS.
“I wanted to remind my own organization that as the USS Arlington sails in defense of our nation,” said Schwartz, “there is a direct connection: The ship was named as a result of the events on 9/11. I never want my organization to forget the horrific human tragedy and the loss that those 184 families suffered.”
Mike Middleton sees the commissioning of the USS Arlington as a great and humbling personal honor, because it suggests a bond between the military and the civil servants who responded that day – though he hesitates to compare the sacrifices of service members to his own. “These military guys expect it, day in and day out,” he said, “and they get no recognition for what they do. I tell people: ‘Look, my ordeal lasted 25 minutes that day. And these guys not only picked up the pieces – they went to war to help protect us.’ I want to express my gratitude and appreciation for what they do.”
This article was first published in the USS Arlington (LPD 24) Commissioning publication.