Post’s first responders reflect on 9/11, share experience

Fort Campbell Fire and Emergency Services employees who worked at the installation on Sept. 11, 2001, reflect on the terrorist attacks nearly 20 years later at a monument partially constructed using recovered steel from the World Trade Center located outside Fire Station 1. Pictured are Deputy Fire Chief Benjamine Peetz, left, Firefighter/EMT Vince McKissic and Fire Capt. Clint Hale.

Captain Clint Hale, Fire and Emergency Service, has seen it all during almost 30 years of service at Fort Campbell, but nothing could have prepared him for the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Then-Firefighter Hale was conducting a routine equipment check-out at Fire Station 1 when he noticed a crowd gathered in the apparatus bay watching footage of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

“I wasn’t sure what was going on at first, and all of a sudden everybody started freaking out so I walked over to see what it was,” Hale said. “When I got to the TV, I saw the second plane hit the second tower and was overcome with a sense of disbelief that this was actually happening.”

First responders from across the installation were reeling from those same emotions, including Chief Keith Shumate, chief of Police, Installation Provost Marshal Office.

At the time, Shumate was a provost sergeant and the noncommissioned officer in charge of Fort Campbell’s military police station. He had just finished a morning physical training session when he heard the news about the attacks, leaving him little time to react.

“I knew immediately that I needed to get back into work because things were about to spin up,” Shumate said. “As soon as we confirmed what was going on, we locked the installation down because we didn’t know if there was an immediate or pending threat to the installation, so we increased our force protection condition.”

Installation access was limited to a single gate within minutes, and first responders mobilized to protect critical locations and individuals from potential follow-up attacks.

“There were cops everywhere, and they were surrounding the hospital with weapons,” said Marc Rogers, Fort Campbell Emergency Medical Services chief, who was working as a paramedic on 9/11. “I don’t think I processed it immediately. I was in shock about what was going on but looking back on it in retrospect I had a feeling of security because of the way the post reacted so quickly.”

Outside the gates, traffic was backed up for miles because of the limited access and many drivers were unaware of the situation at first.

“It just seemed like it was total chaos trying to get through the gate,” said Firefighter/EMT Vince McKissic. “Every single car was being inspected, and I remember coming back to work on Sept. 12 and trying to get through Gate 4 for three hours. That ended up being the first time I ever drove through Gate 7, because they were allowing essential personnel through it.”

Local law enforcement agencies joined together with Fort Campbell’s first responders over the next few days to provide traffic control and keep the roadways from shutting down entirely.

“The Oak Grove Fire Department called us out to help later on 9/11,” Rogers said. “It was hot and people were just waiting in their cars, so we had a couple people not feeling well, and we got gas for some people who ran out. I remember the Subway that was right outside Gate 4 at the time made sandwiches for everybody and brought them out to the cars, and it was great to see there was no question or hesitation from anyone about helping out.”

A strong sense of community spirit endured even after the lockdown ended, and it wasn’t long before the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) began deploying Soldiers to Afghanistan in response to the attacks.

“I saw how patriotism became more in the forefront of people’s minds,” Hale said. “That’s a natural thing, but to see community-wide how the American flag became the symbol for everyone was really heartwarming and made me more relaxed to be out and about.”

Hale, who previously served as a Soldier and remains part of the U.S. Army Reserve, said the attacks also affirmed that he’d chosen the right career path – a sentiment shared by many first responders who worked through 9/11.

“I was prior military, and when I got out, I was honored to continue my journey to work with Soldiers,” Rogers said. “9/11 really instilled a sense of pride, not only because of the first responders but the Soldiers who have had to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 20 years. Being able to support them has instilled a great amount of pride in what I do, and I feel like that brings it home and makes it all worthwhile.”

The ways first responders support those Soldiers have changed significantly since 9/11, with the goal of ensuring the Army is fully prepared to prevent future terrorist attacks.

“It’s not just the military police field, but the Army as a whole that’s changed,” Shumate said. “Prior to 9/11 we did vehicle registration, but the intensity or the focused security at the access control points wasn’t as stringent as it is now. Back then you had a decal on your car that authorized you to access the installation, and now we’re at the point where you have to show an ID card.”

Military police battalions also were refocused to assist in combat operations and support missions. That led to the establishment of the Department of the Army Civilian Police and Security Guard, or DACP/SG, to provide additional gate security at most installations.

The attacks also brought about the National Incident Management System, or NIMS, which Rogers said emphasizes the importance of an incident command system and promotes coordination between first responders.

“9/11 just drove us closer together with our first responder teammates,” said Fort Campbell Fire and Emergency Services Deputy Chief Benjamine Peetz, who served as a fire captain for the installation at the time of the attacks. “We ended up co-locating in several fire stations together, and when an emergency is dispatched, we respond together as one team along with the police officers.”

Peetz said teamwork was on full display when the installation came together in response to 9/11, prioritizing Fort Campbell and its mission over any organizational priorities.

“Everybody put their personal problems aside to come together as one and defeat this,” McKissic said. “9/11 brought everybody together, and it was inspiring to see the U.S. flag everywhere with stripes showing support for the different organizations involved in the response. All the losses we took, that’s one thing people are never, ever going to forget.”

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