On Sept. 11, 2001, Brig. Gen. Ronald G. Crowder was the commander of the Colorado Army National Guard and was “dual-hatted” as the G-3 (wartime) for 8th U.S. Army in Korea. He and at least 13 other Colorado National Guard Soldiers and Airmen were at or near the Pentagon that day conducting staff visits with their counterparts at National Guard Headquarters in Washington.
A traditional Soldier prior to 9/11, Crowder had primarily been in the private practice of law in Colorado Springs. Following 9/11, he was appointed and activated as Deputy J-3 of U.S. Northern Command while simultaneously continuing to command the Colorado Army National Guard. In 2004, Crowder was promoted and assigned as the deputy commanding general (National Guard) for U.S. Army, Pacific at Fort Shafter, Hawaii. From that part-time position he was activated to serve as the deputy commanding general USARPAC.
Shortly before retiring from the militaryin2007, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens appointed him to the 4th Judicial District Court in Colorado Springs, where he continues to serve.
The principal staff and I (14 of us) were in D.C. on Sept. 11, 2001, for visits with counterparts at the Army National Guard Headquarters at Arlington Hall and National Guard Bureau Headquarters at Jefferson Plaza.
I was at Jefferson Plaza, about 400-600 meters from the Pentagon, awaiting an appointment with the J-1, when someone called me into a conference room to see developing news. There was a live feed of a World Trade Center tower on fire. I remembered reading in history that a small bomber had flown into the Empire State Building during World War II. I thought this was similar, but certainly strange given the excellent weather. While watching, the second plane hit the second tower. I knew instantly this was deliberate.
The colonel with whom I was to meet called me into her office. I suggested we postpone the meeting. I would just call her at a later date regarding the issues on my list. She knew I was in town for appointments and graciously offered to answer as many questions as she could.
Just then I heard a muffled kaa-womp. Being an artilleryman, I recognized it as an explosion and commented, “I sure hope that was the air conditioning.” Not ten seconds later, one of her staff came running into the office like his hair was on fire. He was shouting, “They got the Pentagon! They got the Pentagon!” We ran to the window and saw the huge plume of black smoke.
I tried to call Colorado to activate the Operations Center, but could not get cell service. I later heard that part of the federal emergency action plan was to disable cell service in case of a coordinated terrorist attack. It was either that or the system was overwhelmed by all the calls. Fortunately, I ran into a Colorado Guardsman on the NGB staff, who gave me an office and a DSN phone so that I could call our headquarters at Centennial, Colo.
Robby Robinson, our deputy director of Military Affairs, and I put together a list of all the things we should be doing. We of course activated the Operations Center. We then agreed that all armories should make a test of their alert notification rosters. We knew we did not have the authority to activate the Guard, but we wanted all full-timers to contact all part-timers and assure all Colorado Guardsmen were immediately contactable and leaning forward.
The DSN phone also enabled me to call the morale line at Fort Carson. My brother-in-law was the only family member I could reach. He subsequently contacted the rest of the family to let them know I was fine. He made the high school call my son out of class to get the message. The whole nation was amped up that day.
Later that afternoon, the staff and I huddled to discuss options and actions we should take. I remember how somber we were. I suggested a moment of silence. When everyone raised their heads, you could see they were galvanized. “We've got a lot to do. Let's get it done.” We were anxious to get home and felt fortunate we had the Colorado Army Guard's C-26 parked out at Dulles airport.
We agreed to rendezvous in Col. Larry Ciancio’s room that evening. Being an aviator, he had a party going and half the hotel floor – along with most of our people – in there. When I walked in, I could see the Pentagon a few hundred yards away. It was eight or nine hours after the impact. I was shocked to see that the flames from the west side were still some one hundred feet into the air. Also impressive was that the east side of the Pentagon had every light on. People were working. It’s a huge building – 25-27,000 people work there – but I didn’t expect them to go to work with the building on fire.
Right then President George W. Bush came on the television. He gave a very moving speech. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. My president was telling me we were at war and I was watching our national military headquarters burn.
We all wondered where we would be in a year. Most of the talk was warriors wanting to take the fight to the enemy. Being warriors, we had some adult beverages. I wondered if, on the night of Dec. 7, 1941, some warriors got together at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, looked down the coast to see flames at Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field, and had similar conversations, along with “Godspeed” toasts to their buddies.
I also crafted a message to all my Soldiers.
The next morning, with all commercial flights and civilian aviation cancelled, the Federal Aviation Administration gave us permission to fly out of Dulles. We were parked at the civilian business jet center. There were a lot of frustrated businessman sitting around the lobby. We were in civilian clothes and you’d have had to look close to see any U.S. Army markings on the C-26. We went out and climbed in our aircraft. When the engines cranked up, I saw a lot of them run to the large plate glass window and point. We are pretty sure we were the only aircraft that flew out of Dulles on Sept. 12, 2001.
Taxiing to the end of the runway at Dulles was right out of a Stephen King novel. All the concourses and ramps were packed with aircraft. No aircraft or vehicles were moving except for our little C-26.
We never saw another airborne aircraft during our trip back to Colorado. Upon landing at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois to refuel, multiple pick-up trucks, loaded with security policemen armed with M16s, escorted us to the ramp.
When we arrive at Buckley on Sept. 12, 2001,the world had changed. There were alert F-16s on the ramp with their cockpits open and live sidewinder missiles on the wing tips. We could hear the Combat Air Patrol overhead.
Sept. 11 was just the beginning, it seemed. Almost immediately, we activated Soldiers to guard airports and other key strategic locations across the state. Before the year ended, we deployed a company of Special Forces Soldiers to Afghanistan (the rest of the battalion would follow in early 2002).
Return to 9/11 in their own words