9/11 had lasting impact on military

ALBANY, Ga. -- The terrorist attacks that hit the United States a decade ago has had a lasting impact most all Americans, particularly those connected to the United States military.

Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany is no exception.

Master Gunnery Sgt. Erik Jackson, now the communications chief for the Command, Control, Communications and Computers division at Marine Corps Logistics Command, was living on Bolling Air Force Base -- located in the Washington, D.C. area -- at the time.

He was coming back into town from his mother's funeral. By the time arrived at home and was unpacking, the attack on the Pentagon had taken place.

"There was ash floating around in the air," he recalled. "Our son's friend's mother was killed.

"We had a neighbor across the street who worked there who was helping people get out, and doing triage. It was a very intense day."

The Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was near his home, so the fact that air traffic was halted immediately after the attacks proved to be an adjustment for him.

"The plane path was over our house, so there was several days of silence," Jackson said. "It was very quiet for awhile."

On the base there, Jackson said the atmosphere was different following the attacks. Security has been tighter on military installations since then, including MCLB-Albany, which has resulted in an altered entry screening process at gates as well as barricades at certain areas of a base.

The attacks were also effective in raising awareness about how vulnerable the United States can be.

"There was an adrenaline of what was going on running through us at the time," the master gunnery sergeant said. "We didn't know much about al-Qaida. There were a lot of questions regarding who did it and where it came from.

"We realized our shores were obtainable."

There was also preparation for eventual combat operations, which for the local military community meant a boost in production at Maintenance Center Albany and adding steel to the vehicles already in use.

Recruiting also went up immediately afterward as those upset over the terroristic invasion sought to take up arms.

Dennis Lawing, now a retired Marine working as a business analyst for LOGCOM, was a master sergeant in charge of two recruiting stations in Arkansas 10 years ago.

"The morning it happened I was pumping gas, and someone had asked me if I knew about the attack on the World Trade Center," he recalled.

On the day of the attacks, the recruiting offices for most of the other military branches closed -- but the Marine Corps stayed open.

"I left at 7 p.m. that day, still taking applicants," Lawing recalled. "We were on a mission.

"All (the military branches) have the same tangible benefits, but the Marine Corps is an intangible service. That's why we stayed. We were gonna stay and recruit. We don't fail."

Immediately following, there were 40 people that came by Lawing's station to volunteer. Many of these hopefuls were war veterans from as far back as World War II.

"All of them were not qualified with the exception of one," the retired Marine said. "You get one or two on a good day. It's rare that you get 40 that want to fight.

"The one qualified applicant did go on to boot camp."

Lawing was influenced to be more aware of his surroundings, but as far as recruiting processes go, nothing changed after 9/11.

The thing that is unique about recruiting duty is that those you recruit become extended family, which requires interaction with their family members.

"A lot of parents and grandparents came and asked what was gonna happen," Lawing recalled. "We reassured families that everything was going to be fine."

This obligation was a reality that proved especially hard when someone recruited through his station was killed in June 2004.

The junior Marine was 17 when he enlisted.

"When that happens, a lot of Marines, including World War II veterans, will say 'Why wasn't it me?,'" Lawing said. "That kind of loss hurts the most.

"I still call the family at Christmas."

Even training for the military changed after the attacks, as entering into combat conditions required altered preparations.

"We were training for normal, conventional operations," said MCLB Public Affairs Officer 1st Lt. Kyle Thomas, who enlisted shortly before the attacks. "We had to adapt to training so we could fight a different kind of enemy."

In the case of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military had to adapt to setting up satellite operations in order to take on smaller units.

"The ability to mobilize really became important," Jackson said.

In addition to his direct exposure to the impacts the attacks had on the nation's capital, Jackson also visited New York shortly afterward -- and was amazed by what he saw.

"It was intense to see how much damage had been done," he said of ground zero. "It was tremendous the amount of emptiness that was there."

From a uniformed Marine's perspective, the changes made after 9/11 were for the better.

"It opened up more resources for the military," Jackson said. "(Those resources) allowed service members to better do their jobs."

Donna Johnston, now a human resources specialist for Marine Corps Installations East, was working as a condolence letter editor for the Secretary of the Navy -- which put her in the Pentagon at the time of the attack.

She recalled Sept. 11, 2001, as a beautiful, fall day. There was a TV in the office, which is how those at the military's nerve center were keeping up with what was going on in New York.

"We were all huddled around, and the folks watching it said that a plane hit the twin towers," Johnston said. "Their initial reaction was that it was an accident.

"I called my boyfriend and we were discussing it as the second plane hit. At that point we knew it wasn't an accident."

As Johnston and her co-workers continued to follow the media coverage of the attacks, they felt the ground move. When they went to the window, they looked to the right and saw smoke.

"(The impact) was on the next wedge (of the Pentagon) from where we were, so we felt it big," she recalled. "Upon the evacuation you grabbed your keys and didn't think about anything else. You just got out.

"There wasn't chaos. We just left."

Johnston couldn't help but get teary-eyed when she recalled parts of the incident, during which she lost a handful of co-workers she was close to.

"I knew people had lost their lives, and you understand (because of these events) what loss of life is," she said. "It's a big building, so I couldn't see what had happened, but my instinct was to get as far away from the building as I could."

The Navy Command Center was the area hit, which she had spent a good deal of time in.

"I picked up letters from that office," Johnston said. "People I saw on a daily basis were no longer there.

"It could have been any one of us."

Going through that emotional trauma gave Johnston a new perspective on life in general.

"I have a stronger relationship with God," she said. "I also have a stronger sense of loyalty for the military and a deeper respect for human life.

"You learn to take into account what's important."

As a civilian who has spent a lot of time working with military personnel, she had faith the country's service members would adapt.

"I don't think it changed the military much. The military is capable of preparing for the worst," Johnston said.

In her work, specifically, there was more pressure to make sure everyone on a payroll was accounted for.

"You have to make sure roosters are accurate and up to date," Johnston said. "You need to know who your people are and that they are accounted for.

"As a nation, it scared us. It rocked our foundation. At any given time, it can happen."