Monday, December 9, 2013

The Game Warden Files--911, Part 1

We recall traumatic events in our lives in excruciating detail. Childhood injuries, our first heartbreaks, that kind of thing. I recall exactly where I was standing when the news of President Kennedy's assassination hit our school; when the news of the Challenger explosion went over the airwaves and when the news of the first airplane hitting the World Trade Center got to my ears.
It wasn't really surprising to me that a plane had hit one of the towers, there had been near-misses before. My first interview to become an Environmental Conservation Officer was in the conference room on the 61st floor of #2 World Trade Center. After being hired, trained and reporting for duty in that region I'd be there at least once ever week for the next several years. One evening when I'd stayed late to help the captain work on a project, a single engine light aircraft had been so close to our office that I could see the rivets in the fuselage...that's pretty close. So, when I heard the news of a plane hitting, I assumed that it was something of that order.
We were conducting a firearms instructor school at what was then our academy on the grounds of the State University of Oswego. Our training day was not going to start until 2:00 PM since we were going to do the night-fire portion of the course. I was in a lower hallway, talking to one of the maintenance staff when someone called her and told her about a plane hitting the Trade Center. I went upstairs to the lounge and saw the horrible sight on the TV, then the reality of the incident began to unfold. When the news came about the Pentagon, I recall saying "Gentlemen, we are at war." One by one, we drifted off to our rooms, donned our duty gear, drew our firearms from the armory and went back to the TV. We didn't know what was going to happen next; but we would be armed.
The entire campus was put on notice that it might be shut down by mid-afternoon and that we should get our meals and be ready to leave if necessary. We headed to the dining hall which we shared with the Freshman and Sophomore students. Normally, there was not much communication between the college students and the officers. It was the dichotomy of kids and old guys with guns. That day and the days following, it all changed. We were in the serving line and the kids freely intermingled with the old guys and their guns. One young lady nervously tucked herself between me and another officer. The grandfather in me made me ask if she was OK, and her answer remains with me. "I think we should send men no one admits we have to places nobody will admit we've been to do things that no one will admit having done." My kind of girl.
As the crowd filed out of the service line, another interesting thing happened. The students freely sat with us at the tables, like they had never done and engaged in some conversation with us. We had some good conversations in those uncertain days. Neither they nor we were home among our loved ones and I think they looked to us for a measure of protection and stability, and we looked to them for someone to protect. That filled needs in all of us. Their presence gave us someone else to think about, and ours gave them security--a fair trade, I believe. The closeness didn't last long; but the total dichotomy never returned, either.

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