NY Guardsman commemorates at fallen Fort Bliss 9/11 retreat ceremony
Master Sgt. Kelly McCargo,
1st AD Public Affairs:
More than 200 Soldiers, veterans and El Paso city officials gathered at Fort Bliss Memorial Circle to commemorate the victims of 9/11 and in remembrance of fallen Soldiers of operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, Sept. 11.
The 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss commanding general, Maj. Gen. Dana J. H. Pittard, thanked Soldiers and veterans for their service and remarked how the military has grown due to their contributions and sacrifices.
“Thank you for coming today … as we remember the nearly 3,000 men, women and children that were lost in the attacks 11 years ago, and we also honor more than 6,000 U.S. servicemembers who have given their lives defending this nation,” said Pittard. “We also recognize our resilient American spirit. Everybody over the age of 17 remembers what they were doing when our country was attacked 11 years ago … when our country was attacked many of you here, and millions of Americans, were upset, and I think many of us, and some of you Soldiers here, decided to enlist and serve their country after that attack.
“I think so many of us said, just as our president, George W. Bush, said, ‘Not again; not on our watch will our country be attacked again,’” Pittard said.
“Today we also have to recognize our first responders; the police firefighters and emergency responders that went up the stairs, as others were coming down,” Pittard continued.
“We said, ‘Not on our watch,’ and since that occurred, we haven’t been attacked again,” Pittard said. “And that is not by accident or by happenstance. It’s not by accident that the leaders of Al Qaeda are either dead, or on the run or captured … the reason why [another attack] has not occurred is because Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilians – both here and abroad – were on point at all times.
“Ensuring that the different plots, different attacks against our country by enemies of America and of freedom, do not take place,” Pittard continued “We are thankful for that. But that doesn’t happen by accident – we are keeping our eye on the ball and in focus.”
A special guest speaker was a New York Army National Guardsman at Fort Bliss preparing to deploy to Afghanistan … a Guardsman who was also a first responder at Ground Zero 11 years ago.
“Thank you all for honoring me by allowing me to share some thoughts as we commemorate this somber but binding event as a reminder of why we are fighting,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Bien, a 101st Expeditionary Signal Command battalion command sergeant major.
“Most of us here were probably too young to remember the day President Kennedy was killed,” said Bien. “As I was growing up it seemed like everyone from that generation knew exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard that terrible news. I could never understand it – until now. It seems like every generation has an unforgettable moment in time … and for me it was September 11, 2001.”
Bien said he first heard news of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center while he was purchasing wall point at a hardware store in Pine Bush, N.Y. The clerk asked if he had heard about it.
“I said it must have been some ‘cowboy’ showing off in a Piper Cub or something,” he said. Unalarmed he returned home where his neighbor asked the same question. Curious, he checked the news and said he was surprised at the size of the hole in the building.
And as he watched the events unfold on television, the other plane struck the other Twin Tower.
“My neighbor ran over and asked if I had the TV on, and we both stood in my living room as we watched in shock,” he said.
While watching the reporting he thought to himself, “We had just been attacked! But this can’t be possible – America doesn’t get attacked.”
“Once it clicked in my brain that America was under attack, I put on my [uniform], packed a duffle bag, called my wife and drove to my armory where I met most of my cavalry troopers,” he said. “It was kind of funny how we all responded without getting orders – but that’s what minutemen do.”
Bien and his fellow Soldiers drew weapons, chemical protective masks and Meals, Ready to Eat. He called their commanding officer to report a headcount and then squeezed as many Soldiers “as possible” into military vehicles and drove to their battalion headquarters at Staten Island.
Once there they boarded the Staten Island Ferry bound for Manhattan.
“We packed many more Soldiers onto a ferry … by approximately [3 p.m.] 101st Cavalry Regiment was on its way to New York City,” Bien said.
“The half-hour ferry ride felt like hours – filled with anxiety,” Bien continued. “As the ferry rocked towards Battery Park, I tried to imagine what the Soldiers of D-Day felt like as they neared the shores. Of course, there were no bullets flying at us right now, but we’re at war aren’t we?
“It was late afternoon by the time we got to Manhattan, and it was about a 15-minute march to the hole where the towers used to stand,” he said. “We marched through what seemed like inches of soot and ash. There was burnt paper floating through the air like morbid confetti. Smoke and dust got thicker with each block. If you ever mixed cement and inhaled at the wrong moment, then you know what I was tasting. The sour acrid smoke made us happy for once that we had brought our pro masks.
“As we walked into the square we saw a surreal, hazy scene,” said Bien. “When I saw the pile of twisted iron I thought to myself I’m on a Hollywood movie set for a horror movie. NYPD, FDNY, EMTs and other rescue crews were already there on top of the pile. There were burnt-out skeletons of cars, and fire trucks in the street and smoke.”
The 101st troopers joined “Bucket Brigade” teams, which normally haul water, but instead he said it was concrete, steel, sheet rock and plastic. Eventually the holes became so deep they lost sight of the volunteer rescuers who went down looking for survivors.
There were other rescue crews out there looking for ways to get down to the survivors, but the steel was still too hot to walk across, even with the firemen continually spraying them with their hoses, he said.
“As night fell, FEMA, Salvation Army, clergy and counselors began setting up tents and lights,” Bien said. “As we worked through the night, some [personnel were] in the hole and some on the perimeter. As I went around checking on my Soldiers I remember so many things totally out of place, but now somehow seem quite logical: like spray painting on the walls with directions to the morgue. The McDonald’s, opposite tower number one, with its windows blasted out – ironically Burger King had come in and set up shop and started feeding troops. The firehouse had its entire front blown out, but there were already volunteers there setting up a soup kitchen, and the church next to it which didn’t even get a scratch.
“Throughout the night more National Guardsmen, police and fire began to arrive, and I was amazed to see responders not just from out of town but from other states and even Canada,” said Bien. “I think that’s when it struck me – it wasn’t just New York City that was attacked but it was America that was attacked.”
Within days, Bien said every inch of the chain-link fence surrounding Ground Zero was covered with fliers, posters and pictures begging for information about missing friends and loved ones.
Bien and his Soldiers volunteered for two weeks until they were recalled. He returned to work, but as a New York State investigator he was allowed to return due to his familiarity with the rescue operations.
He also learned about numerous co-workers and close friends who either lost their lives or loved ones during the tragedy.
He, along with America, closely watched the news about what was to happen next.
“It became a nightly routine to watch the news and listen to which active and Guard units were to deploy,” he said. “I can’t begin to explain the number of emotions that I experienced when I learned my unit was being sent to Iraq – finally.”
Bien previously deployed to Iraq as a first sergeant with D Troop, 101st Cav. Regt., and is soon deploying to Afghanistan as a command sergeant major with his fellow New York Army “Minutemen.”
“Sometimes I stop in awe seeing an entire Army and think about being all the way on the other side of the globe and think about how this all started,” Bien said.
“Sometimes I think, ‘It took a tragedy to pull this entire nation together.’ Sometimes I just think about the sunny morning when I was just buying paint,” Bien said. “But let me say thank you for not forgetting why we fight.”
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