The USACE Afghanistan District is comprised of Civilian Civil Service employees, U. S. Army Active Duty members, and contractors. Active duty personnel receive orders to come and serve, while the civilian personnel are an all-volunteer workforce. All come together to continue and hopefully complete a mission that was borne following the events on September 11, 2001.
As each of the team members are in Afghanistan now, selflessly serving for something much bigger than themselves, each had a memory of where they were 18 years ago on this day, and the impact it had and has on their everyday lives. You’ll read thoughts from former military members, current military members, and those who deploy to serve others, all in the name of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. Because the USACE team will NEVER forget.
“I was working at the 10th Mountain Division HQ at Ft. Drum, NY. I was stunned by the attack like everyone. Being the nearest major Army installation to Manhattan, we immediately began planning for possible military assistance to the ground zero recovery. After the first couple weeks of not being requested to support the recovery, we switched to planning for the initial entry of forces into Uzbekistan (the 10th Mountain Division sent the first conventional forces to Central Asia to secure airfields) and eventually Afghanistan. There was a lot of secrecy, with many folks not even knowing to where they were deploying until immediately prior. This started my 18-year odyssey of learning about and visiting Afghanistan which continues to this day. It’s a country with incredible history, striking contrasts (terrain, climate, and social forces), rugged people, and immense beauty. I feel fortunate to have experienced Afghanistan.” (COL. Chris Becking)
“I was on a factory line working and at my first break I heard it on the news. It triggered me to join the Army five months later because I wanted to be part of the military that brought those responsible to justice.” (Samuel Curry)
“I was at work at ERDC Vicksburg, MS reviewing my workload schedule. Getting ready for the morning meeting to discuss year-end project status, funding and what materials we needed to purchase before Contracting and CEFMS FY cutoff. I am more aware of what is going on around the world and not just what’s happening around me. I use to think that the world was a large place, but 9/11 showed me how small it really is and how evil is not limited by distance.” (Vincent Durman)
“I was driving down I-20 leaving Fort Hood, Texas to go home on leave before PCS’ing to Camp Hovey, Korea. I remember that my cell phone had stopped working and when I finally reached my parents on the phone, they told me about the catastrophic event that happened. I had the new on the radio for the remainder of my 15-hour drive. It was this event that reminded me of why I was serving in the military.” (Temekka Ellis)
“I was stationed at Edwards AFB, California. It was my first duty station. I had been in the Air Force 15 months. I was on my way to the office when the first plane hit. I walked in and was watching the TV when the second plane hit. I thought it was a movie, but I knew something was wrong when my co-workers were dead silent. I knew my military life was going to get much harder, I also realized how vulnerable we are as a society and as individuals. Till this day, I am paranoid about many things, airports, crowds, guns, crime in general, because you never know really. Now that’s not all due to 9/11, a lot of that is due to my deployments after 9/11. We would not be here if that event had not happened.” (Derland Ellison)
“When 9/11 happened, I was a senior in high school and I was watching the news at home. I was only living in the United States for four years and as an immigrant at that time, I did not know the significance of this tragic event and the impact it had to our nation. It changed my life forever because it motivated me to join the Army the following year, June 2002….one of the best decisions I ever had.” (Markanthony Erice)
“9/11 and the associated events thereafter impacted Department of the Army Professionals in countless ways. I was in Italy working for Installation Management Command, supporting the 173D ABN BDE and SETAF. Our Soldiers deployed in support of OIF and OEF, and I learned about the realities of war while helping to provide Family Support—especially for those who lost their loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Families who stayed in Italy—separated from their CONUS support networks—faced many challenges while the Soldiers were deployed; and I will remember their courage and patriotism forever. My most vivid memories include scenes when our Vicenza community held Welcome Home Ceremonies for Soldiers coming back from downrange…both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Multiple deployments later---both in garrison and downrange myself—has given me a life perspective that is very difficult to explain.” (Annette Evans)
“I was at work. I now hate to fly.” (Joseph Groetsch)
“I was driving to work listening to news radio and thinking World War III just started. I never imagined I would spend two years of my life in Afghanistan trying to help prevent another 9/11.” (Scott Haan)
“I was 2nd Lieutenant having just graduated the Sapper Leader Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri on 09 September. On 11 September, I was on a bus driving from Fort Leonard Wood, MO to St Louis heading back to Fort Lewis, WA. By the time we reached the airport, all flights were canceled and we were told to head back to FLW until further notice. We flew back to Seattle on 15 September and were only one of a handful of flights to leave St Louis that day. I remember it was 15 September because my niece was born that day. It is very difficult to say how it changed my life, because I’m not sure what my life would be like had the attacks not occurred. To say it changed the trajectory of my personal and professional life would be an understatement. I first deployed to Afghanistan in 2002/2003 and followed it up with deployments to Iraq in 2003/2004 & 2005/2006 and also deployments back to Afghanistan in 2010, 2014/2015, and now in 2019/2020.” (Deputy Commanding Officer, USACE Daniel Hayden)
“I was in transit between Elmendorf Air Force Base and Ft. Richardson in Anchorage, AK. I had been called from the Middle East District in Winchester, VA to testify in response to a contractor’s claim. Both gates were on lock down. I got to wait along with numerous others trying to figure out what was going on. There were numerous reports of “small” incidences that occurred that day which caused several people to “Not” be in the towers…you could call them blessings in disguise. I have learned to try to recognize when these…interruptions to my planned events occur…knowing that there is a greater purpose behind each one.” (Margaret Jones)
“I was in Bosnia on deployment. I was on a project site visit for one of my projects. I returned to our base (Eagle Base in Tuzla) around 2:30 p.m. local time, I went to the DFAC at 2:40 p.m. and was eating a bowl of Chili watching the today show, it was 8:45 a.m. eastern time when I saw on the TV the second plane fly into the WTC. My godfather, SGT Robert Kaulfers, Port Authority Police Department, was in Elizabeth, NJ at the time and drove to the WTC and went into the tower-he did not come out, he was 49. I redeployed a week early to attend his funeral in Roselle Park, NJ. I arrived home on 24 September 2001, nine months later, 24 June 2002, my son Nicholas was born.”(David Kaulfers, LTC)
“I was active duty Army in Heidelberg, Germany with 5th Corps Artillery. A Private had told me a plane had struck the World Trade Center. I called my wife in the housing area and she watched the second plane hit while we were on the phone. I remember saying at that point “we are at war” and hung up. We locked down our installation and I became the Sergeant of the Guard. I got home five days later.” (Ed Lawrence)
“I was in a project conference with my Commander, Savannah District and the Wilmington District Commander, at his offices when his secretary burst in and turned the television on. The shock spread throughout the district headquarters within minutes and left everyone in shock. As with everyone that day I realized how quickly life can turn, and how much we need to live every hour of every day as if it could be our last. Planning for the future is something we all need to do, but we need to remember the present as well.” (Dennis Lindemeier)
“It was afternoon in my office at Hohenfels, Army Training Base in Germany. The most immediate change was that prior to 9/11, we were never carded at the entrance to the base. I don’t believe they even had a guard station at the entrance. That event changed security for all kinds of things from that day on. Before that you could pretty much run through airport security, it seems like CAC cards were invented within a couple of years, drivers licenses became legitimate ID cards, etc.” (Drasa Maciunas
“I was working as a Construction Project Manager in the private sector at the time. I stopped by a local architect’s office to pick up some drawings and then went to a job site. By the time I arrived at the job site, I received the news about the attacks. I was also the Commander, 467th Engineer Battalion at the time. I spent the rest of the day at my unit to get accountability and work on directions from my higher HQ. Later, I mobilized and deployed to Iraq twice serving in Mosul 2003-2004 and Baghdad 2009-2010. The rest of the time I was training, mobilizing and demobilizing Army Reserve units for both Iraq and Afghanistan until I retired from the Army in 2015. That experience is probably one reason that I am in Afghanistan today.” (Richard Ott, Chief)
“I was in my office at Ft. Bragg, NC. At first we just thought that oh a plane crashed into a building in New York. But when the second plane hit we had to jump into action. We immediately called all personnel back from any work sites and started a complete lock down. We were not allowed to come back on post for three days and from that day on, Ft. Bragg has been a closed post with gate guards at all entrances. It has forever changed my life because this is why I am deployed. My first deployment was in 2012 and I am now on my fourth deployment.” (Ella Pou)
“On 11 September 2001, I was a 21-year old Private First Class deployed with the 3rd Infantry Division to Gjilani, Kosovo. Prior to September 11, my squad conducted presence patrols and manned guard posts throughout the city to ensure peace between Serbians and Albanians. On the night of September 11th (Kosovo is six hours ahead of New York), I was guarding a Serbian church. I remember my sergeant gathering the three of us that were on guard to listen to the net call that we received from our company headquarters. The message was that the Twin Towers had planes flown into them and that our nation was under attack. This generated many conversations between my teammates and I. We ended our guard shift and patrolled back to the camp, where we learned about the other planes. Being a Soldier who joined the Army to serve his nation, this fueled a lot of emotions for myself and my friends. We immediately started to prepare all of our equipment for a possible shift from Kosovo to Afghanistan. We all wanted to do our part and fight for those we lost in New York and in D. C. We never received orders taking us to Afghanistan, but it did change the way we operated in Kosovo. We started to weak our flak vests, helmets, as well as other safety equipment during our patrols. We also increased our posture, and the frequency of our patrols. Personally, I was struggling with how I was going to be able to join the fight in Afghanistan. I realized that it would be a challenge for the United States to send my unit to Afghanistan, being we were a mechanized unit with tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. This gave me the idea that I had to get to a light unit. Shortly after redeploying, I reenlisted to become a paratrooper at Fort Bragg, NC, so that I would have a chance to deploy to Afghanistan to help our countries efforts. Since reporting to Fort Bragg, I have deployed to Afghanistan five times. For me and my family, September 11th is bitter sweet. We see that day as a day when our country was attacked and many innocent lives were lost. We also recognized that there is some good that has come from that day. The most important result of September 12th is that I met my wife, Mallory in Bagram in 2006. Meeting her has allowed us to have two beautiful children. And for that I am grateful.” (Anthony Powers, SGM, Senior Enlisted Advisor)
“9/11/01 was my first actual work day with USACE at Lookout Point Dam in Lowell, Oregon. The attacks did not change my life, while the response to them have reduced privacy rights, increased shared national debt and made air travel difficult.” (MaryAnn Thomas)
“I was in college at Tarleton State University, Stephenville, TX. I was actually in the shower and I remember hearing about it on the T.V. and I got out thinking what is going on? I did not understand it at first, I just thought it amazing planes crashing into buildings, but now as I am older and especially that I am here in Afghanistan. I understand the thought and meanings behind 9/11. The event changed my life as in me wanting to stay working with USACE to contribute to the Global War on Terrorism.” (Jeffery Veselka)
“I was on active duty Army on an FTX at Ft Lewis, WA. Someone there had a mini TV and we watched it as it was unfolding. Everybody wanted to end the exercise early so we could be ready to deploy, but the battalion commander said that if we end the exercise early, then the terrorists win!” (Gary White)
“I just held funeral services for my wife that morning, followed by her wake….everything changed.” (Tony Soliz)
And things have changed, including that the U. S. and coalition forces remain throughout Afghanistan with counterterrorism operations as the number one priority. Those same forces continue to train, advise, and assist the Afghan forces.
The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers entered the mission as an engineering and construction agent to provide lasting stability throughout the region. And many, many volunteers have continued to deploy to the Afghanistan District to continue the USACE “Castle Strong” mantra, and “Building Strong” capacity.