United Airlines Flight 93 flew over Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001 en route to Washington, DC, when the then Director of the Defense Logistics Agency, Navy Vice Adm. Keith Lippert, ordered all McNamara Headquarters Complex employees to take shelter in the auditorium. Planes had already crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and only God knew where the fourth plane was going.
“The size of our building worried me. It could have been a target,” Lippert said two months before the 20th anniversary of the attack.
Fear flooded the building’s basement as the workers huddled together, some openly sobbing in fear that loved ones who worked at the Pentagon or temporarily at the World Trade Center had been caught in the horror. Others stared at the overhead televisions in shock, wondering how such a tragedy and blood could spill over American soil.
John Morris, former head of Document Automation Printing Service at the Pentagon, was watching news anchors cover the devastation in New York City when he and his staff heard something that sounded like heavy furniture on the floor above. As Morris left the office, he saw employees running, warning of a bomb explosion. It was American Airlines’ hijacked Flight 77 that hit the southwest corridor of the building.
Back at DLA headquarters, Shirley Bergman, then an alternative fuel contract specialist, tormented and cried when she knew her husband was in a Marriott between the two 110-story World Trade Center towers to do senior economists for the US Census Interview Bureau. And Matthew Woodruff, now General Supply Specialist at DLA Distribution San Joaquin, California, was just a sophomore. All but one of his teachers stopped class as students watched the terrible story on news broadcasts.
“I still remember how alive it was. There were a lot of things my parents wouldn’t even allow me to do on TV because of the nature of the event,” he said, admitting that, like most Americans, he never did. .. heard the word al-Qaeda until that day.
Lippert made another announcement that staff should go home soon after the Flight 93 crash in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Most wanted to return the next day, despite the nation’s grief and delays due to increased security.
“We always talked about war fighters first, but that really worked,” he said. “The whole country has reacted more patriotically than in the past and I think everyone has felt the importance of their work.”
The Customer Interaction Center, where agents help callers place orders and find details such as delivery availability and delivery status, went into operation around the clock on September 11th. Shamon Pratt, a customer service specialist who was an agent at the time, recalls that the phone lines were eerily silent for a few days before they went off-hook, forcing management to hire more agents to handle the influx of calls.
Staff across the agency went out of their way to help first responders. James Burke, a driver at DLA Distribution Norfolk, volunteered to drive cots into the Pentagon for 24/7 ambulance workers. Workers at DLA Distribution San Joaquin, California and DLA Distribution Susquehanna, Pennsylvania immediately began shipping items such as boots, first aid kits, and tents. And DLA Disposition Services staff provided the rescue teams in New York and Washington with equipment, including flashlights, shirts, and sleeping mats, which were requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
When the US launched air strikes on al-Qaeda and Taliban training camps in Afghanistan on October 7, procurement specialists were already working with manufacturers to meet expected demand for aircraft parts, food and other items. DLA’s business doubled from $ 16 million to $ 32 million within a year of the attack and to $ 40 million a year later.
At the forefront
The agency brought logistics to the battlefield by using DLA support teams to work with uniformed clients. At the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, more than 40 people worked at DSTs in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait to provide fuel, contract management, waste disposal services and facility transparency while using the latest personal protective equipment.
Marian Hunter, Weapon Systems Support Manager at DLA Aviation, was on duty nine times before she retired in 2017. The ability to attend unit maintenance meetings and speak face-to-face with troops helped her better solve problems.
“The end result is what we all want – well-armed, well-protected fighters,” she said then.
Woodruff is another of hundreds of DLA employees who have since left their homes to put the armed forces at risk. In April 2011, he posted eight months to the DLA Distribution’s theatrical consolidation shipping point at Forward Operating Base Deh Dadi II, where he helped distribute the material to the on-site units.
The nation celebrated a victory during Woodruff’s time in the war zone, and he saw him again on television. At breakfast in the Chow Hall on May 2, he watched President Barack Obama announce that the US Navy Seals had killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of September 11th.
“I could have helped deliver the helicopter part that was used to transport those who found it. It was the smallest things – screws, washers, O-rings – that had the greatest effect there, ”he said. “When you realize that the part you’re providing means a helicopter is less broken down, it becomes more than just a job.”
The human toll
Twenty years after the tragedy that tested the DLA’s ability to support simultaneous wars, Lippert remembers entering the Pentagon the day after the attack. He was there to meet with senior officials about the amount of money the DLA would have for the next year, a meeting he was originally scheduled for the afternoon of September 11th.
“You could hear a pin drop. You could still smell the smoke, and there were armed guards everywhere with rifles and machine guns, something I never thought I would ever see,” he said.
DLA workers who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan for the past 20 years say their pre-deployment training left no doubt that their lives would be in danger. They stood up anyway, and all but two came home alive. Stephen Byus and Krissie Davis were both killed while serving in DLA’s dispatching services in Afghanistan.
The promise: never forget
The vicious, unprovoked attacks that destroyed Americans’ sense of security 20 years ago resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people, including 125 soldiers or civilians and Defense Department contractors. These attacks remain the deadliest act of terrorism in American history, and the aftershocks of the atrocities continue to pervade life today.
Like Lippert, the current DLA director Navy Vice Adm. Michelle Skubic points out the courage, patriotism and resilience of the employees.
“Just like today’s workforce, they understand that DLA needs to be at its best on America’s worst day,” she said in a statement to the agency this week.
The sharp memories of September 11th urge employees like Woodruff to redirect themselves to the DLA’s mission. American pride is alive and well among the members of the DLA.
“September 11th taught us that we must be resilient and not complacent,” said Woodruff. “It’s like a game of chess. We have to be one step ahead of our opponents.”