10 years after 9/11: How 9/11 impacted my police career

Americans will always remember where we were that day, and how it changed our lives — as a nation and as individual people

Two weeks ago, I was in New York City for the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, attending a variety of services to solemnly remember all those who perished on that sunny September morning. We as Americans will always remember where we were that day, and how it changed our lives — as a nation and as individual people. Were you 10-8 out on the streets that day? Was your command staff calling in your off-duty officers and reserves? Were you an academy recruit just beginning your career or were you getting ready to pull the pin?

Last month I asked you to send me an email with your story. Below is a collection of responses sent in from a handful of Police1 Members. Ordinarily, I edit these things down in the interest of brevity. In this instance, however, all I did was correct some grammar and a couple of misspelled words here and there, so you’re seeing these members’ thoughts as “raw” as when they were sent to me.

As always, you can add your own story in the comments area below. Okay, let’s get to it.

Sacrifices Made On September 11
On September 11, 2001 at 10:28am I was many things. I was a New Yorker, the son of a NYC Firefighter, a little league ball player, an eight grade student, and a child at 13 years old. But at 10:28am on September 11, 2001 I became something — something that has not changed with time, something that can’t be swayed or destroyed. I became certain that I would devote my life to public service. This ideal was solidified with every replay of the towers falling, every funeral procession that crowded my home borough in the weeks following, every odor of a burning city when the wind was just right, and every view of the decapitated skyline of my city.

September 11, 2001 obviously changed the world but it “flipped” the proverbial “switch” in my 13-year-old brain. That day made me WANT to make a difference in this world and take up the path of the “sheepdog” …just as my father and both of my grandfathers had done. I am now 23 years old and have been a Police Officer for almost one year now. Every day that I strap on the vest, pin the badge, and snap the keepers in their now-customary locations, I am reminded of the sacrifice that our brothers made on that day.

I consider it a privilege to be accepted into this noble profession and I am satisfied in knowing that we honor the sacrifices made by everyone that day by approaching each shift with the same unadulterated and pure ideals that were instilled in my mind at 10:28am on September 11, 2001.
     — Officer David Sparnroft, Lynchburg (Va.) Police Department

Honored and Remembered Forever
On 9/11 I was crossing the campus at the University of Northern Iowa. I was walking to my next class that morning. As usual, I entered Maucker Union to get something to drink before class. When I entered I saw many of my peers standing around TVs that had been set up. I did not see the first plane hit but I did see the second. As the events unfolded I wondered what would happen next. It dawned on me that many of those around me were sheep aimlessly watching the events of the day unfold around them. That evening I gathered with friends at one of their houses and we talked about what had happened and what should happen in the days after the tragedy in regards to those responsible. It appeared to me then that not all of us were sheep but I was in fact living amongst some wolves (or panthers rather...the mascot of the University of Northern Iowa)

At the time of the tragedy I was 21 years old. When I graduated college I was 23 and immediately left to serve with the U.S. Coast Guard as it had become part of the newly formed Department of Homeland Security. While there I was able to serve my country on the domestic front in a unique capacity. I conducted homeland security patrols, federal law enforcement, and search and rescue operations just north of Chicago on Lake Michigan. The hours were long and there were many sleepless nights when the SAR (Search and Rescue) alarm went off and we went out into the night searching for a disabled boater or person in the water. The lives that we saved made that job what it was.

A close friend of the family and a former teacher I had in high school at Montezuma Community Schools in Montezuma (Iowa) was a former member of the U.S. Army that retired with the rank of Colonel. I will refrain from stating what his specialty was but it is safe to assume that he was not filing paperwork. We all referred to him as Colonel even while he was our teacher. We spoke many times in the days, months, and years following 9/11 and still do to this day. I would bounce career path ideas off of him during these conversations. His guidance led me to my service in the U.S. Coast Guard.

My wife and I married while I was in the service and that marriage led me back home to continue serving. I now am a Sheriff’s Deputy with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office. The events of 9/11, my time with the U.S. Coast Guard, my family, and God led me here to this department to continue my service.

In 2008 my role as a Deputy started with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office. My first day on the job was during the flooding that occurred in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Apparently God did not think I should leave the water quite yet. I am currently assigned to the Jail Division with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office. I am not working the streets but those that do bring the streets to us.

9/11 shaped our world differently, my career, and my life as a whole. My heart goes out to those directly involved with that tragedy. Those heroes that died on that fateful day will be honored and remembered forever.
     — Deputy Jason Roorda, Linn County (Iowa) Sheriff’s Office

The first thing it did for me was bring me back to the unit I loved so much. As a young police officer back in 1991 I had my dream fulfilled and was assigned to the Emergency Service Unit. This was the place I wanted to be and I had a great time there. I worked with great guys, worked some great jobs and learned a tremendous amount. My partner and I were even one of the first units on the scene for the ‘93 bombing of the trade center and my partner and I received one of the department’s highest medals for bravery for rescuing the only survivor from the B2 blast level of the Trade Center garage.

In ‘94 I was promoted to sergeant and by department regulations had to leave the unit. I never gave up trying to get back in even after making Lt. Unfortunately September 11th gave me my opportunity. Due to the nature of ESU’s work they were heavily involved in the rescue operation at ground zero and as such suffered disproportionately high casualties when the towers collapsed. Fourteen of the 23 NYPD officers lost were from ESU. Because of the losses the unit suffered on 9/11and being tasked with not only providing a rescue/recovery effort at the site as well as normal patrol functions and also providing SWAT type security around the city they were stretched very thin to say the least. Due to these shortages ESU put out a call to former members of the unit to volunteer to come back and lend assistance. I was one of 30 or so that answered the call. I was assigned to work the site on the overnight shift from 6pm to 6 am. I wound up spending nine months there till the site closed in May of 2002.

So firstly I got back to the unit. Second I was able to partake in a myriad of training that the NYPD was now offering to certain officers mostly through Homeland Security. I participated in Radiation training out at the Nevada testing grounds, post explosion bomb courses in New Mexico as well a live nerve agent training with the military down in Anniston Alabama. I was also able to get involved with all the T&E we were doing on new equipment, everything from new rifles (Colt M4s), pistols, suppressors, vehicles, and HAZMAT gear. I was also able to participate in many of the “war game” type activities we did such as terrorist takeover of ferry boats, trains, airplanes, attacks in subways and other major transportation hubs. I even became the CO of the NYPD counter sniper team and led them through an increase in manpower, T&E of new equipment etc. I was a recipient of everything that went on in NYC post 9/11 that the NYPD used in order to evolve it’s mission in the new age of policing that we all were facing. 
     — Cory Cuneo, NYPD (ret.)

Compelled to Be There
I’ll never forget that horrible morning — 9/11-01 — my birthday. It was my relief day and I was out on a LOD injury with my arm in a cast. I was watching the news as it was unfolding, and by one in the afternoon I called my PBA and asked for advice — I felt overwhelmingly compelled to be there. I was told I could not come off the injured list and go on duty as it would jeopardize my career and 20-year pension. I was angry and crying at the same time. I felt helpless and angry at myself because I could not be there with my brother and sister police officers. I have since retired and have not yet gotten over the loss of lives that our country and my city — New York City — lost that day.

God bless all police officers. God bless our military. God bless America.
     — Officer Anthony Tesoriere, MTA Police (ret.)

A Deeper Understanding
I was the team leader on a protection detail of the Chief Judge in the Eastern District of New York (former Attorney General Michael Mukasey). I arrived in Manhattan on the weekend prior and remember the day before 9/11 looking at the window of the U.S. Courthouse and seeing the Twin Towers and thinking what a site to see. On the morning of 9/11, we would should have been at the courthouse around 8:30-9:00 AM, (which is about 8-10 blocks from the former site), but the Judge had a dentist appointment in upper town Manhattan, so we were approximately 30 blocks away when the towers were hit. I remember coming out of the dentist’s office to check on my team who were posted outside and my Limo driver told me a plane had crashed into one of the towers. At that time there was a belief that it must have been an accident, until word came that a second plane had hit the pentagon. It was quite chaotic at that time, as we departed the area I remember seeing the smoke roll up the avenues as we moved our protected individual to a designated safe area.

I had no idea the extent of lives lost at the immediate time, but would quickly learn as the rest of the world did the catastrophic loss of lives that occurred that morning. I was able to go down to ground zero within 24 hours to observe the devastation with our protectee and will never forget the images and sounds of that day. We were rushed out of the site as another part of a hotel in the area came crashing down as the devastation of the event continued. The next few days of that week were filled with disbelief that a terror-related event of such magnitude could occur in our country. Everywhere I went in the city I was surrounded by people whose lives had been changed forever, it seemed as though everyone I met had lost someone they knew.

As I stopped by some of the firehouses who lost so many brothers at one time, I couldn’t imagine how anything I could say or do could make a difference, but I know it made me have a deeper understanding and appreciation for those who run into danger when everyone else is running away.
     — Deputy U.S. Marshal Jonathan M. Stewart, Southern District of Iowa/Des Moines

Why Did They Do That, Daddy?
On September 11, 2001 I was working a road detail. I remember what a beautiful bright blue early autumn morning it was. I received a call from a friend of mine telling me what had happened. Complete strangers stopped as they drove my asking me if I knew about the World Trade Center and asking me what they should do. I remember telling some of the people that they should go home and pray for the people who died and pray for our country. I knew that as of that morning, everything had changed.

I finished my road detail and went to the station where, with about a dozen police officers, civilians and support staff we stood glued to the television, our mouths agape in disbelief at what we were looking at. I called my wife and we talked about whether or not to pick up our daughters at school we decided not to. When they came home from school, I explained what had happened and showed them on television.

My little girl, Taylor said, “Why did they do that, daddy?”

For the first time in my life, I didn’t have an answer.

From that date in September, 2001 I vowed that I would never forget what happened that day. Recently, I got my first tattoo depicting the firefighters raising the flag on Ground Zero, just as another generation of heroes had done on Iwo Jima so many years ago, with an American Eagle keeping sentry over that scene. I will never forget the heroes that died on that beautiful September morning or the thousands of innocent Americans who lost their lives.

I pray that this doesn’t become an afterthought for those who were alive on that date. God Bless America. 
     — Patrick J. Droney, Chief of Police, Ashfield (Mass.) Police Department

My Utmost Respect
You may not wish to hear from a Brit who was only indirectly affected, but at the time I had just finished a year in upstate New York as a Fulbright scholar at Cornell and was in my next appointment as an Army officer in the U.K. Ministry of Defense (on my second day). As well as having just spent a year in America and experiencing first-hand the kindness and hospitality of Americans (and not just academics at Cornell but also a wide range of Americans from all walks of life), I also had good memories of working with Americans on intelligence, airborne and other specialist areas dating back to the first Gulf War.

So, in summary, despite still not fully understanding why you invited us to leave in 1776(!), I greatly admire Americans and the values you stand for. The attack on 9/11 also directly affected us and every other country in the world with any notion about liberty and decency. It was frankly shocking.

Anyone who questions why we went to Afghanistan or Iraq, I refer back to 9/11. The world changed on that day.

I have done everything in my power to help the UK effort in dealing with the bad guys since then and with some success. I have also lost some of my soldiers in the process — I have then met their families and you would be impressed that in every case they were proud of what their sons had done. The point is — and the families understand this so the rest of us should too — we have no choice but to face up to the threat and deal with it for as long as it takes. 9/11 spelled it out for us.

All the Americans who faced up to the consequences of 9/11 — armed forces, police, fire service, intelligence agencies, and many others — have my utmost respect.
     — Brigadier General Tom Ogilvie-Graham, British Army

We Build! We Fight!
At the time, I was not yet a LEO. I was a U.S. Navy Reservist that had just returned from an 18 month Active Duty call up for a humanitarian effort in Kosovo. I was back home in New York less than 2 weeks when the attacks took place.

I had returned two days prior to my civilian job as a Verizon 411 Supervisor. That day I was assigned as a regular operator. I was about 20 minutes into my shift when I answered a call where a woman said “Send help quick, a plane just hit my building!”

That was how I learned of the incident.

Figuring that it was a small plane that had somehow wandered off course and hit the WTC, I continued taking calls. Soon after, a man called in and asked me for Cushman & Wakefield in Enfield (Conn.). As I was checking the listing, he said “I bet you guys are hopping there!”

I said we were busy, and he informed me he was in Tower 2. I told him “Hey guy, get out of there!” He replied that he was evacuating via the stairwell and the “all clear” was given so he returned to his office. He also said he was there in ‘93 and it wasn’t a big deal.

A few seconds later, a thunderous noise came over the line. (The 2nd plane had hit below his floor). I stayed on the line and was there when he returned. He was dialing while I was still there. I remained on the line with him ‘til the very end. We both knew he wasn’t gong to make it. We never acknowledged that to each other, but we both knew. He asked me to call his family and told me things that only a wife would know. All that time, he was trying to dial out on another line and use his cell phone, both to no avail.

In the end he was at peace. We knew each others names, and he thanked me.

Soon the connection broke and a few minutes later a co worker came rushing in and said one of the towers had collapsed. I immediately went to the roof of our building and saw all of the smoke/dust. Something changed for me that day, as it did for a lot of people that day.

Two days later, my reserve unit was ordered to report for duty. We were bussed into Manhattan, and I was standing in dust and rubble.

Once I returned to work, I was taking calls at Verizon and there were a lot of requests for a missing persons line. I had heard some of the most heart wrenching stories from people looking for lost loved ones. I returned to Manhattan about a month after the incident and saw a lot of the vigils being build in the subway with pictures/candles and flowers of lost people.

In 2003, I relocated to Florida, where I have been a LEO for eight years. I was destined for this job. The military instilled in me core values, which I carry with me to this day. 9/11 was a wake up call for a lot of people. To me, being a former U.S. Navy Seabee, our motto is “With Compassion for Others: We Build! We Fight!” As a LEO I have compassion, and 9/11 has expanded that, which I feel makes me a better officer.
     — Florida Law Enforcement Officer Timothy P. Dugin

Proud to Wear the Badge
I was just a couple years into my career when 9/11 happened. I was scheduled to work day shift, but when I woke up didn’t feel well and had to call in sick. The next thing I remember is wakening up and turning on the news just before the second Tower was hit.

For the next 12 hours, I sat in my bed watching the news in disbelief. When we started hearing the numbers of those lost in the tragedy, and the numbers of Law Enforcement, Fire, and Emergency Services personnel that lost their lives it hit me hard. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about those who unselfishly gave their lives to try to save others. It makes me proud to wear the badge.
     — S/Sgt. J.M. Coleman, Burlington (N.C.) Police Department

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