As I drove slowly that hot and humid Texas morning down Rancier Avenue through Killeen, Texas; I truly comprehended what had happened the day before. I knew well and completely what had taken place the day before. Everyone everywhere did. I just didn’t get it yet. That morning, as the line of traffic, crawled towards the gates of Fort Hood, I got the reality of it. I understood the implications.
The cars crawled forward towards the checkpoint. A team of MPs went over each one. They had mirrors on sticks, they stopped the cars. They popped the hoods. They searched every bag or backpack contained therein. Before I got on the post, some poor E4 knew that I liked my deviled ham sandwiches with a slice of lettuce. That was when the implications of a successful terrorist attack against Americans on home soil sunk in. As a crew on a Humvee covered me with an M2, it all clicked in. Nothing says ‘reality” like a ma-duce pointed at your cute little nose. That reality told me that the US was on its way to becoming a different and perhaps a more frightened country than it had been the morning before.
The day before had been one of unreality. I was working an Operational Test over at a place euphemistically called The Forward Test Center. We more accurately dubbed it the Forward Trailer Park. I surfed the web a bit like I typically would do as I waited for the data to come in off of Clear Creek Range. I saw the image of a burning skyscraper on CNN and some blaring headline that I totally forgot. I figured the website had been hacked. I hit refresh, and apparently a few million other people had tuned in to see the news. It wouldn’t reload. I hit the commode and then took a walk.
I walked across the graveled parking lot to the supply trailer. I liked the retired, old NCO who signed a temporary contract to handle the gear for that particular IOT&E. He was watching an old, 14” TV with the stereotypical bent coat hanger and tin foil antenna rig. I saw that two towers were now on fire. He, I and two other people batted around theories. Was it somebody like Timothy McVeigh? Did the government do it? One guy got tangentially close and suggested it was The Saudis* or The Iranians. I figured they all were crazy.
I went home that night in a numb and shocked state. I made dinner like normal. I talked to a woman I was dating on and off at the time like normal. It wasn’t until I woke up on 9-12 and spent 3 ½ hours on my 20-minute commute to work that it came home to me personally. The distance between my insulated little world and the suffering endured in NYC and Washington, DC had been bridged by events. That was when I understood what Bruce Springsteen would later sing about when he penned “Empty Sky.”
*-19/21 were Saudis, but that doesn’t imply that it was The Saudis.