Dignitaries, service members, first responders, and the public alike gathered Friday morning September 10 on McGlachlin Parade Field at Fort George G. Meade to observe the 20th Anniversary Remembrance Ceremony of the violent events of September 11, 2001. The guest speaker said it felt like church.
Joseph Wassel is the is the Executive for Cyberspace Operations Directorate and was the guest speaker for Friday’s ceremony. He is also a veteran of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, where he went to the crash site with then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to render aid.
The windows shook in his Pentagon office so much when the plane hit he thought they would shatter, he told those assembled.
“I stood up and not in a moment of brilliance said ‘This isn’t good,” Wassel remembered. When they rushed to the site of the crash they were confronted by an inferno.
“The heat and the visual of the fireball is something I will never forget,” he said. They did what they could, helping a mortally wounded mother of four out of the debris, one of 184 Americans who died at the Pentagon that day.
But his work was just beginning. The United States was about to start a multi-pronged military campaign that came to a close in Afghanistan just recently.
“We headed back into the building where we worked straight for about 100 days,” Wassel explained.
Since 9/11 Wassel has spoken formally of the attack multiple times. But Friday morning was a bit different. A group of young Marines was visiting from Camp Lejeune, having visited a wounded comrade in Bethesda. In speaking with them Wassel learned that at least three of them had not yet been born on 9/11.
That was the first time that had happened to Wassel during all of his speaking engagements, he said. Serving in Kabul, Afghanistan and addressing troops there he said he had noted that many of them had only been in high school on 9/11. Today many had not even been present when the vicious 9/11 attack took place.
It emphasized to him why such ceremonies like Fridays are so important. He was thankful to preside as guest speaker.
“For me this is like going to church,” he said. “It just feels right to be here with you and I am so thankful.”
On September 11 he is to speak in Shanksville, Pennsylvania at the Flight 93 memorial, where a few handfuls of Americans fought the terrorists that took over their plane, ultimately preventing it from crashing into another Washington D.C. target.
“The heroes of Flight 93 were the first to turn the tide,” he noted.
Wassel said educating current and future generations on the events of 9/11 was an “absolute imperative.” America is best understood through the preamble of the U.S. Constitution he believes, which he read to listeners, starting with “We the People,,,”
“Never forget on that beautiful; Tuesday morning on September 11, 2001, evil came to the U.S..” he said. “It was a day of great national uncertainty. We must be ready, always ready, to answer the call.”
That day continues to impact Wassel today. He revealed an underlying motivation to the audience about his current work to serve the United States.
“I wonder if we had shared info on the 10th the way we shared info on the 12th, could we have prevented the 11th?” he questioned. “That’s what drives me every day.”
Dutch Ruppersberger, U.S. Congressman of Maryland’s 2nd District also spoke during the ceremony, expressing gratitude, but also addressing the recent pull-out of America from the war in Afghanistan,
“The president made a gut-wrenching decision to make good on the agreement established by his predecessor and it was the right one,” he said. “To be sure there were poor political decisions made throughout the evacuation of our troops and our allies. But never did we question the commitment, bravery, and honor of our men and women in uniform and our military leadership.”
On this anniversary of 9/11 Americans of all walks of life are contemplating not only what the sacrifices that day mean, but what the recent end of the war in Afghanistan means for us all.
Fort Meade service members are no different.
Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Sanders attended Friday. He was at Fort Bragg when 9/11 happened and the base went into lockdown.
“It was like a nightmare,” he recalled. “I saw the world transforming before me.”
After deployments to Afghanistan, he hasn’t entirely worked out how he feels about the withdrawal of troops.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I have to process it just yet. I’ve been so connected to that mission for so many years. It became muscle memory almost.”