“I think when anything like this happens—any kind of national tragedy—so when something like this happens I think you’re struck by the amazing feats you see people do,” said former Fort Rucker Public Affairs Officer Ken Holder remembering Sept. 11.
“Things that you would not expect them to do on a normal, daily basis. People didn’t question how many hours they put in, they didn’t question how long it took to get in and out (of Fort Rucker), they didn’t question what it was going to take to make America whole. I think more than anything else, I was struck by the dedication I saw from the men and women in uniform in particular knowing what was facing them and the same thing for those families knowing what their loved ones were going to have to go do yet just being quietly resolute and steadfast in their devotion to the country.”
Holder remembered that Sept. 11, 2001, started out like any other day with staff meetings. He said that after the staff meetings, the first plane had just hit, but that no one thought it was an attack at first.
“At that point everybody thought that is a commuter plane,” Holder said. “And then we went to maybe the pilot or copilot had a heart attack or a system failure.”
He said the second plane changed everything.
“Then it seemed like no time behind—you know we were watching the news and had it up on the T.V. screen and I was the public affairs officer at the time,” Holder said. “We had it up on the T.V. screen and as soon as we all started watching, the second plane hit. I think we all saw the second plane hit as we were standing there and I think that was the first time the realization hit that this was not a random act—this was not an accident—it was an intentional act.”
Holder said once the realization hit, securing the post became the number one priority.
“It was like somebody kicked over a fire ant pile, actually, to get everybody to start working to secure the gate,” Holder said. “At that point and time we had gates open—it was an open post—you had to have a sticker but everybody just came and went. There was no guard shack or anything.
“We weren’t even in a position where you could put up a—I think they’re called jersey barriers—where they could put the barriers for the key vehicles coming through. None of the buildings had any kind of protection from anybody parking close to it. It was probably as unprepared for an attack like that as it could be.”
He said many people on the post took off early to go home to be with their families and others called loved ones.
He said that he remembers the next morning that the line to get in the post from the Enterprise gate was backed up all the way to the gas station on Rucker Boulevard that’s about the halfway point to the post. He said that he got in the line around 6 a.m. and didn’t actually get on post until around 9 a.m. that day.
“Gradually we got better at that,” Holder said. “Everybody started making plans for upgrading those gates.”
Holder described the feeling of being on post after the attack.
“I think we ran the same range of emotions that everyone in America ran,” Holder said. “At first it was fear. Are we going to be attacked again? Is it there going to be another attack? Is it going to be us? Then it became anger that we’d lost our fellow citizens and lost our fellow countrymen.
“And then I think it turned into a plan. The plan was to make sure it didn’t happen again and that’s what has happened and Army aviators played an important role. I think you have to look at all that and understand that Fort Rucker understood that there was a mission that was going to come their way and that Army aviation was uniquely qualified to handle it. And so, I think there was a quiet resoluteness that fell over—especially the leadership knowing what was coming and what they were expected to do.”
Holder said the eventually the post returned to a “new normal.”
“I think the post went back to a new normal,” Holder said. “And it’s a normal that recognizes the reality of what the world is like today. The new normal pretty quickly became that you didn’t get upset waiting to go on post because you knew it was going to be safe when you got there and you felt empathy for the young men and women who were staffing those gates. It’s kind of like going through airport security, we’ve all gotten used to the reality of the world.”