When History Called, We Answered!
At ground zero, September 11, 2001 wasn't about what some politicians or world leaders did before or what affects policies had on us before and after that point in time. It was about a moment when we went from a regular day to selflessly putting our lives on the line for others we didn't even know not knowing if we would live through the moment ourselves.
It was a moment we didn't choose. We just decided it was the moment we would face regardless of its magnitude. Bonds formed through the flames and ashes that day. Bonds that became greater than any that could ever happen again on US soil after it.
This is my story about me and my team; Team Cobra, Pentagon Police SWAT. A story about how this day defined the moment and us. And how it further forged who we became as men after.
Many chase their moments in time to make an impact. Many don't find it. Few get the chance and fewer perform to task.
When history called, we answered!
My Tuesday Morning
I woke up a little earlier than usual. I was a part of the second team of the Emergency Response Team so my normal routine would be waking up at around 10am so I could be on the road to the Pentagon and at work ready to go by 12pm. I was never really a natural morning person so my shift was great for me. I always attribute it to me being born at 5:56 pm, maybe there’s some validity to it maybe not but it sounded good to me. And yes I know the exact time because my mother would call me on my birth time to sing happy birthday even if she talked to me earlier on the birthday.
But we were supposed to arrive earlier for the arrival of POTUS at the Pentagon Helipad that morning so I was an early bird on this day. President Bush had departed just days earlier from the same helipad.
As a young officer in the pre big money agency days I lived in a nice enough efficiency apartment on the North eastern end of Baltimore. No bedroom per say just a living space, kitchen, and bathroom. Not like the lofty, NYish studio images I had in my head but for $300 a month it served its purpose. Same routine just earlier, so roll off air mattress, turn on television, walk 6 feet toward the bath room and start brushing my teeth.
The tv was well within earshot of me and there were commercials on at first. As the commercials when off I heard the news. Tone was not like the usual. No accretive commentary on the random news for the day. Then I heard what sounded like a snippet about the World Trade Center. I walked into the bed/living room to see an image of smoke rolling out of and up the side of one of the towers. Anchor man said something about a plane hitting the tower. It was more of a tone of a tragic accident. Like some poor pilot in his private plane took a wrong turn and slammed into one of the tallest buildings in the world. I looked and thought to myself, “Damn that’s jacked up!” Nothing too theatrical to speak of or over dramatize. Remember, morning person, not this guy.
I went back into the bathroom to finish brushing my teeth and get ready for work. The next thing I heard changed everything in an instant. Not just that moment but everything. A sound of excitement roared from my little tv. “Another plane just hit the Trade Center!” I’m sure my eyes, narrow as they are got as wide as the screen for a second. I ran into the other room to see what I was hearing. Now both towers are hit. One can be a mistake but two? Like this? No way in hell! As I shook my head as if to reboot from a bad dream, my brain ran through some realities as I saw them.
“The Pentagon!” The WTC is one of our symbols of strength in the US. It’s the financial/ economic arm of it. And that arm has just been attacked. I always made an effort to think strategically about things. The bigger picture is always good to visualize and at times war gaming it so that you can have insights on things and why they happen helps as an emergency responder. I thought to myself there are two strengths that make the US what it is, economic and military. This wasn’t a mistake and these couldn’t have been amateurs. “I’ve got to get to work!”
My drive to work from North West Baltimore to the Pentagon, south of DC was a stretch to say the least. If I were to go through the city it could take me well over an hour and a half just to get to work. I had learned early that going through the Harbor tunnel of Rt 185 to 295 south would take at least 20 minutes less than that scenic route; well worth the toll I paid.
This day was no different. Despite that eerie feeling I got driving toward an enclosed space under the Chesapeake bay soon after a first phase attack on our soil I pressed on. The radio was my friend every day during my long drives to work, and on this Tuesday it was a life line. As I drove through Key Bridge from the radio I heard what I thought was probable but still seemed unreal. “The Pentagon Has Been Hit!” Never really had a numb but hyper feeling before. Not until this moment. Driving fast but everything seemed to move slow for a moment. This was a time that defined what the term first responder meant. I still had to go through that tunnel under the bay. Then 40 miles more to what was now ground zero.
My phone started to ring. I answered and on the other end was my cousin, Tisha. The conversation was brief and to the point. A confirmation of my status. She must have dialed as soon as the word went out about the Pentagon being hit. She asked if I was ok. I replied that I was and was on the way to work. The call pretty much ended there.
Everything was in emergency mood. Another ring, this time my mother. Same interaction and confirmation. Both ending with be careful and I love you. I know it was crazy on my end but I can imagine it must have been just as wild on the other side of this first responder deal. Countless loved ones making those calls to their first responders with the same questions. Responders with the same replies. Even for those away from these places that were attacked the excitement, adrenaline, and fears had to have been there.
This was the unknown. No face to an enemy that just pulled off the biggest attack on our country since what seemed like forever. No more calls came in. Found out later that cell phone towers got overloaded because of the millions of calls that happened within minutes. What was next? For me it was forward on that long ride through the harbor tunnel and toward ground zero.
Chapter 1, Cobra 9/11
Clyde J Lucas
Cobra 8, Former Team Member Pentagon Police ERT (SWAT) Team Cobra
Founder and Principal Consultant Maxtactx Systems LLC