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9/11 Reflections: Steven W. Nichols, Legalman First Class, U.S. Navy Retired

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I served in the U.S. Army for 10 years as an enlisted member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. After getting out of the Army, I decided to join the U.S. Navy Reserves. I was active duty for training on September 11, 2001 attending the Navy’s Leadership Continuum Course at the Mine Warfare Training Center at Naval Station (NAVSTA) Ingleside, Texas. NAVSTA Ingleside is no longer an active Navy military installation. Several active-duty mine warfare first class petty officers and three Naval Reservists (all with admin rates) that included me were attending the training course on that fateful day. My classmates and I were in our second, and final, week of training when the terrorist attacks occurred.

My classmates and I learned about the attack shortly after the first plane was flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC). We were on a break when the Command Master Chief entered our classroom and said, “A plane has evidently crashed into one of the World Trade Center – you might want to turn on the television (TV) and watch the news report until it is time to resume your training.” The Master Chief thereafter departed to return to his duties. The TV in our classroom was used to show training videos during training courses.

One of our instructors, a First Class Minean, turned on the TV and tuned it to CNN. Those of us in the room stood around watching the news report. CNN, as with other networks, had reported that there were reports that a private plane had accidentally crashed into WTC North Tower. As we stood there watching the news report, each of us witnessed the second plane slam into the WTC South Tower. One of my active-duty classmates “sat down hard” and exclaimed, “We are under attack, we are at war!” The time was 8:03 a.m. Central Standard Time (9:03 a.m. in New York City).

We all stood there stunned and took in what we had just seen. CNN’s anchor and reporters were reporting on what appeared to be a Boeing 767 that had slammed into the second tower. It took at least a minute for my mind to register what I had just seen. My thoughts were, “Surely this is not really happening – not in our country.” Once what happened registered with me, I too realized that our nation was now at war. It did not register in mind that the United States had just been brought into a new kind of war against a new kind of enemy.

Our other classmates and instructors returned to the room. They were stunned when we told them what we had just seen. They too became glued to the TV as everyone was trying to make sense out of what we had just witnesses.

I lost track of time and do not recall how long we all stood and sat around watching the horrible and shocking news unfold.

My classmates and I sat with our instructors watching the news coverage of what would end up serving as the catalyst for the Global War on Terrorism. We heard the CNN anchors report that U.S. government officials, the FAA, and FBI had reports of other aircraft that may have been hijacked.

Our conversation focused on the terrorist attack we had witnessed while watching CNN news. We also all expressed concern for those in the two WTC towers and the passengers aboard the two airliners that had crashed into the towers.

Then at 9:37 a.m. (Eastern Standard Time), Flight 77 was crashed into the western façade of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. We heard the news report of the attack on the Pentagon shortly thereafter. That news confirmed to those of us in the classroom that our nation was indeed under attack.

At approximately 9:45 a.m. (to the best of my recollection), the Command Master Chief returned to the classroom and informed us that he had received official confirmation (not sure of the source of his news) that the World Trade Center had indeed been attacked and struck by two commercial airliners. He told us to stand down and await orders.

As we all sat in the classroom watching the news coverage and waiting for orders as to what we were expected to do, I could not help but think of what my then 14-year old daughter (she will be 32 at the end of next month) and  wife were thinking and how they were responding. I also thought of the rest of my family and said a few silent prayers for them. At the very moment the first plane hit the WTC, they were at an orthodontic appointment for daughter. I stepped out into the hallway and called my wife’s cell phone. I could not get through as the phone lines were “jammed” with calls of worried Americans. I keep trying to call my wife at different times during the day and was not able to reach her until about 11:00 p.m. that night.

Shortly after 10:00 a.m., CNN reported that another flight, Flight 93, had been hijacked and that the plane had crashed near Stonycreek Township in Pennsylvania. That news further stunned my classmates and I.

At approximately 10:30 a.m. (to the best of my recollection), the Command Master Chief returned to our classroom and informed the active-duty mine warfare men that they were to immediately report to their respective ships (minesweepers of the Osprey-Class). My active-duty classmates immediately departed to join their respective ships. I was not to see them again.

Later, word was passed that all non-essential personnel were to depart from Naval Station Ingleside. I assumed that the directive applied to the Department of Navy civilian employees and contractors were working on the naval station.

At noon, the course instructors informed my fellow reservists and I that we were to return to our respective hotels and await further orders. As I departed the Mine Warfare Training Center, I saw a lot of activity on the base. Base security forces had erected both concrete and water filled barriers at the gate and along the perimeter fence. Armed Master of Arms personnel had manned the gate and controlling access into and out of the base. I also saw other Mater of Arms personnel who were patrolling the base. I departed the base and returned to my hotel in Ingleside to await further orders.

I then spent two days in limbo at my hotel awaiting word as to what I was expected to do. I phoned and reported into the Mine Warfare Center twice a day and asked if there were any orders or instructions for me. Meanwhile, I informed my civilian employee, the Insurance Council of Texas, about my status. My executive director was concerned that I might be kept on active-duty. I told him that it was possible that I may not be released back to reserve status. I noted that I knew that there was a possibility that someday I could be called to active-duty and discussed how he could temporary fill my position. I kept in touch with my wife throughout the “limbo time.”

I watched the news coverage on the television in my hotel room. I was watching CNN News when the first tower started to collapse. I watch in horror as the tower fell. I had a lump in my throat and tears came to my eyes. I have not cried since my childhood. After the second tower came down, I shed tears and prayed for the first responders who were attempting to rescue people from the towers. I also prayed for those who were trapped in the upper floors and perished when the towers fell. I called my wife at around 11 p.m. and finally got through to her. We both glad to hear each other’s voices. My wife and I talked for at least an hour – sharing our thoughts and discussing how our daughter was responding to what happened. We both decided to reassure our daughter that everything would be alright and that she was safe – we would keep her safe.

I stayed glued to the television and news coverage of the tragic aftermath of the terrorist attack on our nation for the next two days only stepping away when I went out to get lunch and dinner.

On September 14th I received a phone call and was told to report to the Mine Warfare Center. After passing through the high security at the gate, I reported to the Mine Warfare Center. I was informed that my classmates and I were going to be graduated and released to duty. I was informed to contact the Naval Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve Center, Corpus Christ to ascertain if I was to be released from active-duty or was expected to report to duty at my gaining command. I called the Reserve Center and was informed that I was to have the Mine Warfare Center endorse my orders and release me back reserve status. Once that was done, I returned to my hotel to change out of my CNT uniform into civilian clothing, check out of the hotel and make the 2 and half hour drive home to Austin, Texas.

After checking out of the hotel where the front desk staff wished me luck and said to be safe (they knew I was in the Navy), I gassed up my care and started the drive home. As I drove past the Corpus Christi International Airport, I noticed that there were quite a number of airliners parked on the tarmac and at the jet-ways of the terminal. I noticed that there were absolutely on aircraft other than an occasional Navy aircraft in the skies. I listened to Fox News and CNN News on my XM Radio as I made the drive home. The drive was one of the “longest” drives I ever made. I saw no civilian aircraft or airlines in the skies. I saw an occasional military aircraft as I approached San Antonio and some Army helicopters as I entered Austin city limits.

Prior to leaving, I called my wife to let her know that I was coming home (she was also a Navy Reservist and was worried about whether I would be released from active duty). I then called my executive director to let him know that I had been released from active-duty and would be in the office on the following Monday. My executive director, who was a decorated Vietnam veteran, was glad to hear that I would be back at the office on Monday.

I arrived home shortly after my wife had returned from work. Both my daughter, wife, and mother (she lived with us at the time) greeted me when I entered our house. They were all very happy to see me and I them. I continued to watch news coverage of the rescue efforts throughout the weekend and returned to my civilian job on Monday.

I later learned from my mother that one of my sister’s college classmates had perished when Tower One collapsed (my sister is almost 10 years younger than me). My sister had been informed by her friend’s husband that she did not get out of the tower before it collapsed. My mother reminded me that I had meet her several times. That was a sad moment as I recalled her as being a lovely, vibrant, and very smart young lady. Upon returning to work, I learned that several employees of one of my association’s associate members had died in Tower Two when the second plane slammed into the tower. I was told that several of them routinely attended our annual property and casualty insurance symposium. More sad and tragic news. A lot to take in over a period of a few days.

When I shared my experience at the Mine Warfare Center with friends and a World War II veteran I knew (Bill Glass who is sadly no longer with us), they all listened intently. Bill Glass said that you kind of know what it was like for those of us on active-duty on December 7, 1941 and subsequent days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. We both shared that we felt angry and a bit helpless as we wanted to do something to strike back but could not. I learned later that one of my classmates from the Naval Justice School, a Legalman First Class, was called to active-duty a few days after the attacks. She left a large Chicago law firm where she was the Law Office Manager and deployed to Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain where I would serve a month on active-duty with her two years later. I one month tour of duty at NSA Bahrain occurred shortly after Operation Iraqi Freedom began. That is another unique experience I shall never forget. I was never called to active-duty to serve in the Global War on Terrorism. I would have gladly served had I been called upon. There was, however, no opportunity for me to do so other than as a reservist.

I shall never forget the events and my experiences on September 11, 2001 as long as I live. It was my “where were you at when…” moment. Those experiences and my subsequent active duty tours shaped who I am today. I shall always remember the heroes and victims who perished on September 11th. I make a point to watch the annual 911 observance and remember those who lost their lives on that fateful day and during the resulting Global War on Terrorism.

I lost an acquaintance in the war – CW5 Sharon Swartworth. CW5 Swartworth gave her life for our country when a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was shot down Nov. 7, 2003, in Tikrit, Iraq. I became acquainted with CW5 Swartworth, who was the chief warrant officer of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, as I contemplated applying for appointment as a warrant officer one legal administrator in the U.S. Army Reserves. She joined the ranks of other heroes who have previously and would later lay down their lives for nation during the Global War on Terrorism.

 I retired from the Navy in 2006. I shall be forever proud of my many shipmates, the soldiers, Marines and airmen who have gone into harm’s way as they have fought the Global War on Terrorism. It is important that Americans never forget about the events of September 11, 2001. It is equally important that they not forget those who lost their live on that tragic day and during the on-going Global War on Terrorism. I have no doubt that the United States and our many Allies will win the Global War on Terrorism when all is said and done. I have no doubt that Americans will never forget the events of September 11, 2001.

Steven W. Nichols, Legalman First Class, U.S. Navy Retired

9/11 Reflections: Alan Rohlfing, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (Retired)

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For me, as for many of us, the morning of September 11, 2001 started off like any other. It was a beautiful day in St. Charles, Missouri. My wife & I had one young son & one on the way. An Army guy, I was a traditional National Guardsman and a small business owner with about 1,000 things going on at any given time.

I was in the process of taking my son to daycare when I first heard news of the attack. As I started the car & turned on the radio, it was the only news on every station. The second plane had already made impact by the time I tuned in. I recall that news reports were relaying some concern over a few other commercial airliners that weren’t communicating with air traffic control, with the talk of scrambling military fighter jets. I prayed that those pilots wouldn’t be placed in the position of having to shoot down a commercial airliner.

I hadn’t left the driveway yet, and I looked in the rearview mirror at my young son, sitting in his car seat. I remember having that sinking feeling that so much of our world had just forever changed. I knew our military world had just changed, too, but I doubt anyone could have predicted how much. As a member of a Field Artillery battalion’s operations staff, there were exercises in the coming training year that I was helping to prepare for, and the artilleryman in me knew we were going to have to ‘adjust fire’ regarding our yearly training plan. I figured that our combat arms unit, part of the Missouri Army National Guard, would deploy…it was just a matter of time.

And deploy we did, just like the rest of the Active and Reserve Components. We deployed more than once, and to various parts of the world. I was already a combat Vet – I deployed with the 1st Infantry Division to Operation Desert Storm a decade earlier, while on active duty – but I didn’t have a young family back then. Sitting in that driveway, looking at my young son & thinking of the one we had on the way, I was worried for their safety & the world they were going to grow up in.

Fast forward to 2017. I hung up the uniform for good last summer, and a bittersweet day it was. I imagine the events of 9/11 – and the subsequent training, unique duty positions, and deployments –  altered what would have been a shorter military career. Like many of my colleagues, I’ve missed years of family time. I’ve lost Brothers & Sisters to combat and to suicide. I’ve forged some incredible friendships and witnessed some awesome things through a multinational lens. These 17 years have come and gone with blinding speed, and it seems like the next time I turn around, it will be the 25th or 50th anniversary of that fateful day. But I know, beyond all doubt, that we will never forget…

-Alan Rohlfing, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (Retired)

9/11 Reflections: Mark C. Lear, Major, US Army (Retired)

On September 11th, 2001, I was a Captain of Armor in the Illinois National Guard’s 66th Brigade. I served as a traditional National Guard soldier, drilling part-time as I’d done for 8 years during college and after active duty. After 12 years in the U.S. Army, I’d considered strongly the idea of separating from service. After that terrible day, there was no way I would leave before serving until retirement or on a deployment that could bring justice to the terrorists who hurt our American family.

At 7:45 local St. Louis time, I heard of the first plane crashing into the North Tower and it took a little less than a minute to imagine the worst. By the time I made it to the gas station, where they played the news each morning, the second plane had just hit the South Tower. The attendant said, “That’s weird”. I responded, “No, that’s war”.

Continuing my drive to work, my heart sank as my neighbors in cars around me were bawling. I was very angry and praying for those workers in the towers. That day at work we did nothing but watch the news. By noon, we went home. I watched the news all that day with my family. Around dinner, I called my Grandmother to ask her what would my grandfather have done today. On December 8th, 1941 he made his way to the recruiter and was made a Coast Guard Medic soon after. It was 6 years before he returned home for good. Grandma told me to be careful but she understood my desire to re-enter active duty that day.

I called a friend of mine in the Armor branch who managed the assignments of young Captains. He told me to stand fast, that we in the National Guard would be going soon enough. I followed his advice and deployed for the first of two times 4 months later. A horrible and fateful day that should have never happened!

– Mark C. Lear, Major, US Army (Retired)

Senate Overrides Presidential Veto on Anti-Terrorism Bill

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By Debbie Gregory.

In the first successful override of a presidential veto since Obama took office, the House and Senate voted to reject President Obama’s veto of legislation allowing lawsuits against foreign sponsors of terrorism. This was Obama’s 12th veto of his presidency.

S.2040/H.R.3815, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, was vetoed because it was thought that the bill would infringe on the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy. The legislation creates an exception for sovereign immunity granted in U.S. courts to foreign governments that are not designated state sponsors of terrorism.

Survivors and families member of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have longed pushed for the ability to sue Saudi Arabia for damages. They believe the country played a role in the attacks. Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, though Saudi Arabia has formally denied any association.

The House voted 348-77, well above the two-thirds majority needed. The final vote tally in the Senate was 97-1. Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., cast the lone dissenting vote. Even Obama’s Democratic allies on Capitol Hill voted to override his veto.

Obama stated that although he thinks overriding his veto was a mistake, he understood why Congress voted the way it did.

Congress spent nearly seven years evaluating every aspect of JASTA to carefully refine its text and policies. The resulting legislation ensures that the rights of American citizens are prioritized above Saudi interests, allowing victims to hold foreign governments accountable in U.S. courts for furthering terrorism against Americans.

The measure essentially creates an exception to sovereign immunity, the doctrine that holds one country can’t be sued in another country’s courts. It allows plaintiffs to sue other nations in U.S. federal courts for monetary damages in cases of injury, death or property damage caused by acts of international terrorism in the United States.

The president warned the law could be “devastating” to the U.S. military, diplomatic and intelligence communities.

“The United States relies on principles of immunity to prevent foreign litigants and foreign courts from second-guessing our counter-terrorism operations and other actions that we take every day,” he wrote.

Although the 9/11 commission did not find any proof of Saudi government involvement, the families still want to examine any possible links not yet uncovered. The legislation provides the green light for them to move forward.

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