Former Lt. Col. George Leone was the Colorado Army National Guard’s full-time Information Management branch chief and was also in charge of the Selective Service Detachment. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he was meeting with Army National Guard officials in at the ARNG Readiness Center in Arlington, Va., just outside the nation’s capitol, about the Distance Learning Program.
He’s now a colonel in the Individual Ready Reserve and working for MPRI a staff advisor as part of the Iraq Training Assistance Mission, U.S. Forces-Iraq.
During our morning meetings, I had come back to a gathering of about five officers who were buzzing about two planes hitting the World Trade Center. I was incredulous. “Two planes just don't hit the World Trade Center.” I was right. They didn't “just” do anything.
We went to another office to watch televised reports on the topic. After 20 minutes or so we returned to the cubicles that we were meeting in before and began to discuss what all this meant. At that point a captain (whose name I never knew) pointed out that there was a plane that was coming in “low and fast.” We all looked out the window and there was, in fact, a plane that was flying at what I recall as being very close to, and level with, the Readiness Center. I watched it dip one wing and the other and disappear over some tall trees. We turned back around after speculating that the Federal Aviation Administration must be forcing everything down.
I turned around 10 seconds later and saw a plume of black smoke over the trees the airplane had passed over. I said “My God. It hit.” Then someone observed that was where the Pentagon was. I would say it was not more than 20 seconds after that, the announcement to evacuate the Readiness Center came across.
While waiting my turn we watched televised reports about the World Trade Center and there was a huge ball of dust. They mentioned the “other tower.” The reports had not announced the collapse and I believe it had just happened. I asked a person next to me, “Where is the other tower?”
We evacuated the Center and drove back to the hotel. I remember the town, otherwise chaotic, in which to drive was in shock. It's as if people were in a trance. It was incredibly orderly. I was very surprised and braced to hear reports of follow-on suicide bombers with vests that, thankfully, never came.
Back at the hotel, I went to my room and had to close the curtains to the only window because it looked directly onto the Pentagon. I just couldn't sit there and stare at it. I also remember the roof of the hotel, reportedly, had been manned with FBI agents with surface-to-air missiles because of the height of the hotel and it being key urban terrain. I never knew for sure, but I was looking for some friends in the observation lounge and wound up accidentally heading for the roof and was stopped.
I was stuck there a week. I was comfortable and the Colorado Guard took care of all my orders and such. I am thankful for that.
I think the experience was one in a long line of life experiences that helped to break down barriers and prepare me to just “be” in the moment; to take things for what they are and to do what needs to be done in those circumstances, instead of being obsessed with “shaping” conditions around me.
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