SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. --
Gathered around the installation’s flagpole, a small group of people watched as the American flag was raised and then lowered to half-staff during a 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony today at 7 a.m.
Flanked by formations of junior enlisted members from an Airman Leadership School class and Scott’s first responders, Col. Leslie Maher, 375th Air Mobility Wing and Installation commander, shared her story about the events of that day and those that followed.
“We each have a story, and we need to talk about it. We need to share these stories with our young Airmen. We need to make sure that what we do has purpose,” she said.
She was assigned to the Pentagon but had flown to Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, on temporary duty and was there when the attack occurred. She was pulled from a meeting and witnessed the events unfold on TV like so many around the world, and then watched in horror and disbelief as images from the Pentagon emerged.
“It was very tough to see because that side of the Pentagon was very familiar to me as my office was on the fifth floor of that side,” she explained.
Realizing that there would be no flights home that day, she folded into Hanscom's Crisis Action Team to help work through the effects of having the base closed down. The Crisis Action Team assisted hundreds of people such as a young mother who needed formula for her child because the commissary closed, and they answered hundreds of questions and helped direct people who wanted to volunteer their services.
She secured a rental car the next day to drive back to Washington, D.C. As she drove through the New York City area, she said what struck her were the trucks lined up already carrying debris out of the city and as they worked rescue operations to dig people out.
“By now it had been 48 hours and it was eerily quiet back in D.C.,” she said. “Our office team of 20 people re-assembled at other locations since we didn’t have an office to go back to. I was then tasked to escort contractors up on the Pentagon roof as they assessed the damage.
“What normally would have been a fun job—being on the roof of the Pentagon—was instead very somber because I saw first-hand the destruction. We went down to the C-ring and I saw that circle of impact and was just stunned. I looked at that for the longest time, where that nose cone had violated my Pentagon.”
She then joined a team tasked with answering the Pentagon’s telephone lines and worked alongside social workers, first responders and chaplains who had the terrible task of verifying if loved ones were dead. Their task was also to provide necessary resources to affected family members.
She remembered vividly one call from an 18-year-old young man asking if his mother was alive. He had been taking care of his younger sister and his mom had not been heard from in three days. She was indeed one of the victims, and the colonel remembers the pain of going through that experience.
Reflecting on that day, she also remembers how the Army had taken a serious hit in the attack.
“But, it will be the people rushing into help, not running away, that will forever be marked in my mind. I will also never forget the [business] trucks that came in day after day to provide supplies and food to make sure people were taken care of and by feeding the construction and rescue workers.”
A month later, the Secretary of Defense held an all-call to announce that they would rebuild the Pentagon and be fully operational within a year—and he was true to that promise with the help of all involved in the effort who “rose up, sharpened their talents and got after it.
“Share your story today and show how we are resilient. It’s rising up and putting a plan in action, and then getting after it to get it done that makes this the greatest nation on the planet.”
Maher, along with Airman 1st Class Dylan Summers, a firefighter with the 375th Civil Engineer Squadron, placed a wreath at the flagpole which begin a moment of silence also marked by the tradition of the sounding of a bell.
The sounding of the bell represents the completion of the call for firefighters who “place their lives in jeopardy for the good of their fellow citizen” and also honors those who died in the line of duty.
Maher’s Wingman and newly arrived senior enlisted advisor, Command Chief Leon Calloway, wants all Airmen to know that their service to the nation does not go un-recognized.
“Our Airmen serve with pride and honor our legacy, and this remembrance ceremony is one way they do that. Let us never forget the service and sacrifices of not only 9/11 but in the 17 years that have followed.”