Special Post: September 11, 2001 by Jackie Albrecht
SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
BY JACKIE ALBRECHT
Where were you on September 11, 2001? Did you watch in horror as America came under attack? I did. Did you think the world as we knew it had gone crazy? I did. Did you experience some combination of fear and helplessness? I certainly did.
September 11 is my birthday. My husband and I were celebrating with a vacation to Gulf Shores. We just returned to our condo following an early morning walk on the beach, when our daughter telephoned with the news a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center building in New York City. We immediately turned on the television and, like many of you, witnessed in real-time the continued terrorist attack on our country.
By way of background, in 1980, I was sworn-in as a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For the majority of my career, I conducted espionage investigations and counterintelligence operations; however, in 1999, I received ancillary training in grief counseling and became a member of the FBI’s Critical Incident Stress Management Team. Our primary mission was to provide FBI employees with counseling services following a major crisis. Little did I imagine I would ever be called upon to respond to an incident the magnitude of the twin towers catastrophe.
Exactly two weeks after the terrorist attacks, I flew to NYC to serve as a grief counselor. I felt pride for America and this was my “call to duty.” During our initial team briefing, I volunteered to work the night shift at “Ground Zero.” I was partnered with an FBI Chaplain who was a wise and seasoned pastor. Although our scheduled shift was from 4:00 p.m. until midnight each day, we always arrived at work early and many times did not return to our lodging until daybreak. Ground Zero was mesmerizing – so much destruction, so much grief and sadness, so much to do in a short amount of time. Rescue workers hoped and believed people might still be alive, perhaps trapped in the buildings’ stairwells or tunnels beneath the twisted wreckage. Rescue efforts by hundreds of firefighters, emergency medical technicians, police, and rescue dogs continued 24 hours each day, every day. Clean-up operations by thousands of heavy equipment operators, truck drivers, and laborers also continued around the clock. The “Pit” was a dangerous, noxious, noisy, hub of activity. Everyone who worked there was required to wear a hardhat and other protective equipment. However, personal interaction with fellow human beings in this environment was found to be difficult, if not impossible, while wearing protective breathing equipment, and these masks were soon abandoned.
Our focus quickly morphed from serving only FBI employees to listening to and counseling all first responders at Ground Zero. Casual conversation often turned into gut-wrenching stories of guilt and anger while they described the loss of a friend or a comrade. Many expressed the wish that they, too, had died.
You might ask, “Where was God?” Where was God when almost 3,000 people were murdered on that single day? Where was God when 13 buildings were suddenly decimated? Where was God when countless families were forever torn apart? I saw evidence of His presence many times, in many places.
Soon after I arrived at Ground Zero, I met a civilian volunteer at one of the make-shift eating areas set up on the perimeter of the Pit. Percy’s contribution was to wash and sanitize the workers’ boots before they entered the area in which food and drink were consumed. His job was tedious and dirty, yet he was often overheard humming the tune of a Christian spiritual while he worked. He later confided to me that his grandmother had taught him the song when he was a child – a song to be called forth whenever he needed a little “extra strength.”
The final night of my assignment to Ground Zero, I visited Percy one last time. It was an emotional encounter and with tears in my eyes I told him I should wash his boots that day, to repay him for the many acts of kindness he had shown me. Calmly and deliberately he said, “No ma’am, this is my job!” God called Percy to be a “boot cleaner” in the aftermath of a disaster, and Percy responded in the only way he knew – faithfully, sincerely, and with a servant’s heart. He was proud of his work, but he wanted no recognition; he would continue for as long as he was needed. I walked away knowing Percy’s name would never appear in any newspaper, nor his picture in any magazine, but his unselfish actions as the hands and feet of Jesus would remain in my heart forever.
Here are a few other examples of patriotism and “God winks” I witnessed while working for 10 days at Ground Zero:
*Citizens lining the perimeter of Ground Zero each day, waving American flags and shouting encouragement to the workers as they entered the area.
*Countless meals prepared by a famous NYC chef and donated to the workers. Before the attacks, this chef operated a restaurant whose reservation list for dinner extended up to two years.
*Celebrities joining with “everyday” volunteers for hours on end, serving meals to the workers. These acts of charity were rarely publicized.
*A NYC business erecting a large food tent on the periphery of the Pit and donating for months all manner of refreshments to the workers.
*Children’s hand-drawn colorful pictures and “love letters” posted on the walls to provide inspiration to the weary workers as they ate their meals.
*Fresh-cut flowers placed daily in the rest stations at the work area.
*NYC firefighters working their shift throughout the night, and then attending funerals for their co-workers the following day.
*The sound from bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace.”
*Search and rescue dogs being hand-carried by their handlers away from the Pit, following their exhausting shifts looking for survivors.
*A steel worker climbing to the highest point of the debris and unfurling an American flag.
*A hastily assembled memorial area where names and photographs of missing NYC firefighters and police officers were posted. The area provided a sacred place for workers to pause and pray for their comrades.
*A picture of a newborn baby with the annotation, “Daddy, I will always love and remember you. Your daughter, born September 19, 2001.”
*A wilted rose with a card attached that read, “Dearest Debbie, I am returning you back to the arms of God.”
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, affected every aspect of our life in the United States. Illusions created by complacency were shattered. An evil hand touched our nation and we wondered if our country would ever be the same again, but we are a resilient people. Despite our differences, we stand tall in adversity. May God continue to bless us, “…one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
JACQUELINE S. ALBRECHT
Jackie Albrecht is a native of Birmingham, Alabama. She attended the University of Alabama in Birmingham where she earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice. In 1980, Jackie fulfilled her childhood dream and was sworn-in as a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. At the time, Jackie was the youngest agent in the FBI and one of less than 300 women who had ever held the position of Special Agent. During her 30-year career with the FBI, spanning five separate field offices throughout the United States, Jackie served as a Supervisory Special Agent, certified foreign intelligence agent, undercover agent, and grief counselor. The majority of her career involved working classified espionage investigations and counterintelligence operations. In 2010, Jackie felt an undeniable nudge from the Holy Spirit to retire from the FBI and volunteer her time and energy in church and mission fields. She has led multiple mission trips to Costa Rica to construct a children’s orphanage. She is active in the Walk to Emmaus community and is passionate about organizing women’s Bible studies in local churches. As a mentor and motivational speaker, Jackie believes her calling is to encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to achieve success and a vibrant, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Jackie’s husband, Ken, is also a retired Federal Special Agent. They have been married for sixteen years and live at Lake Guntersville, Alabama.