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Skinner remembers; calls on others to serve

By Staff | Sep 22, 2014

The annual commemoration and remembrance ceremony held at Independent Fire Company in Charles Town once again fell on a bright, sunny day similar to Sept. 11, 2001 when the United States was attacked by terrorists.

Dr. Henry Christie, chaplain of the company, led the event sharing, once again, the statistics that are now known of the loss of lives from the terror attacks on U.S. soil and their aftermath.

With a bell sequence, five-five-five, denoting a fallen firefighter, the ceremony began as Christie explained the display of hats placed on the table.

The NYFD hat placed on the table represented 343 New York firefighters who lost their lives while the hats denoting the Port Authority and NYPD were representative of 37 Port Authority officers and one canine and 23 New York City officers who perished. The Army cap was placed for the 55 military personnel who lost their lives in the attack at the Pentagon.

Also on the table stood an empty and cracked frame for a photograph signifying the hole in the lives of the families left behind.

Local attorney Andrew Skinner was the guest speaker at this year’s event. He recalled where he was on that fateful day and how the actions of terrorists affected his life then and now. Following is the entirety of Skinner’s remarks.

“There are a few events in life that everybody remembers with perfect clarity where they were and what they were doing.

“I would be willing to wager that every person here, over the age of about 20, can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they found out about 9/11.

“My family and I were living in Chicago. I had taken the “L” the subway line in Chicago from where we lived in Lincoln Park to the Loop, downtown, and I got off at the Merchandise Mart. I had just walked across the Chicago River. It was sunny and beautiful and just a little crisp in the air. Another guy I worked with had ridden the same train, so we were walking together. As we approached the doors to our building, one of the other attorneys at our firm was walking out of the building, and he told us that a plane had just hit one of the World Trade Center Towers in NYC.

“I thought he meant that it was a little single engine private plane. Little did I realize what had really happened. We made our way up to our floors, where, as you can imagine, there was a buzz around the office. I made my way to one of the conference rooms that had a TV. My coworkers and I gathered around and watched as the first tower fell and then the second tower fell.

“Just as it was for everybody in America, that was a day of great uncertainty. The guy in the office next to mine, his wife worked in the Sears Tower, which we could see out our windows. We heard reports that not every plane was accounted for and that they were evacuating the Sears Tower, because officials believed it could also be a target.

“I have a sister Sally who was living in Manhattan. My brother Stephen lived there also. Communications were slow that day, to say the least. The cell phone system was overburdened; landlines were busy. We eventually learned that they were shaken, but okay.

“I stayed at the office until early afternoon, and then I went home to be with my pregnant wife Kathy and our one-year-old daughter. I remember thinking, as we watched the TV the rest of that day, that my daughter wouldn’t remember a thing. In fact, I asked her two nights ago, and she’s got no memory of the attack. 9/11 to her is almost like the ancient civilizations that she’s studying right now something from a long, long time ago.

“I didn’t get much work done for the next couple of weeks I spent hours every day, it seemed, sitting in my office and refreshing news sites on the internet, looking for updates on what had happened and who was to blame.

“At the end of that month, my boss criticized me for the first time ever for not billing enough hours that month.

“But just like most everybody in America, the attacks on 9/11 got me to thinking about what was important. I concluded that there were things more important than billable hours.

“So I renewed my commitment to the US Army. I had done ROTC in college, and I spent the next four years on active duty, deployed once to Europe for the Bosnian crisis. I came off active duty, went to law school, and joined the Army National Guard. My Guard unit got called up, so I then spent more time deployed to Europe, again for the Bosnian mission.

“By the time I graduated from law school in the late 1990s and started life in the big city, I thought I was ready for a break from the Army life. I was now a lawyer in a big fancy firm, so I started to put my Army career behind me. I transferred from the National Guard to the IRR the Individual Ready Reserve. The only requirement in the IRR is to make sure the Army knows your address.

“After 9/11, though, I got to thinking. I had just spent the past ten years of my life as a Soldier. And now that our country had been attacked, our military was going to be called upon. And I had some good experience. I had two overseas deployments; I’d been on active duty; I’d been in the National Guard; I’d been a combat arms guy as an Armor officer; I’d done logistics at the tactical level and at the operational level.

“Given the sight of those Towers crumbling, I did not think it was appropriate to use all that training and education and experience worrying about whether I had enough billable hours.

“So I started back in. I signed up for Army schooling, I found a unit, and I was back in, this time in the Army Reserve.

“At that point, mid 2003, we moved back home to Jefferson County, and I found a unit at Ft. Meade. I was a Reserve Soldier, going one weekend a month and two weeks a year, when I got mobilized back to active duty. I spent a year in the States, training other Reserve and National Guard Soldiers preparing for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’m still in the Army Reserve today. Now I serve as an instructor for Command and General Staff School, teaching Majors how to be effective field grade officers in the Army.

“The effect of 9/11 on me personally was to spur me to renew my commitment to the Army, to stay in. Fortunately, there were tens of thousands of other Americans who decided to join or stay in the military. We needed that manpower, that experience, that drive, to enable us to fight in this Long War in which we’re engaged.

“Each of you has a similar story, I’m certain. Some of you may have decided to enlist in the Navy or become a police officer or volunteer with an organization such as Independent Fire Company.

“Some of you may have decided that what you were doing when the Towers fell was not contributing to your country when it needed you most. So you went back to school or became a teacher or started a business. Or perhaps you decided to volunteer for Meals on Wheels or over at Community Ministries.

“Perhaps you decided that preparedness was important, so you took first aid and CPR. You went through the CERT training Community Emergency Response Team offered by Barbara Miller at Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

“Whatever commitment you made right after the Towers fell, I would ask that you take a good look at what you decided and then renew that commitment, today. It’s important for you to ask regularly what can you do for your country.

“I have a funny feeling that the people here at this ceremony today ask that question of themselves on a regular basis. What I would charge you with is to spread that. As you can see from the news, the United States is not finished with this Long War. This dispute will simmer for decades, centuries. There are no short-term solutions. So what you can do is continue to build institutions, whether they be businesses or non-profits or schools or police forces, that are resilient and adaptable and strong.

“I thank you, and ask that you never forget.”