On “11 Sep 01” I was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. (Former military will recognize the dating convention.) For those unfamiliar with Andrews, it is in Maryland on the outskirts of Washington, DC and is most famous for housing Air Force One. “Ah, now it rings a bell,” you say.
I was in charge of our base’s alcohol and drug rehabilitation services, and 11 September started out an uneventful day like any other. The patients (in my business the more politically correct term is “clients”) had gone down for a smoke break. Almost all recovering addicts smoke. Go figure. They came back frantically instructing us to turn on the TV. An airplane had hit the World Trade Center. Needless to say, not much more rehabbing got done that day.
We were all, clients and staff, watching live as the second plane flew into the South Tower. What had been speculated about and suspected, terrorism, was confirmed. What happened after that could best be described as ordered chaos.
The base went on complete lock down. Threatcon delta, I believe, was the designation. No one could come or go. If I remember correctly, the hospital was also locked down. Neither patients nor staff could leave. I was able to contact my wife, who had been instructed by base police to stay inside, but cell phone communication was sporadic at best and many patients were unable to get in touch with loved ones—a fact which didn’t exactly help lower the anxiety level. Parents on the base were particularly frantic because they couldn’t get their children from the local schools. Thankfully, our kids were home schooled.
Rumors were rampant. One that seemed to linger for a while was that a bomb had gone off outside the Capitol. We were on the fourth floor and therefore had a good view of the surroundings. At one point we could see smoke rising in the distance. We all assumed this was the Capitol Building. Only later did we come to find out it was actually the Pentagon. In hindsight, I know this makes us all seem directionally challenged, but the circumstances did not lend themselves to thoughtful assessments of geography.