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Pentagon attack underscored to him the brevity & uncertainty of life

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–On Sept. 11, 2001, David Elliott stood across the Potomac River from his Pentagon office and watched it burn as he waited for word about his coworkers.

Now a systems engineer at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, Elliott was working at the Pentagon the day terrorists guided a jet into the sprawling building.

A major in the U.S. Army stationed at the Pentagon, Elliott retired in July from the military and his job at the Pentagon where he worked in the Joint Staff Support Center, a division of the Defense Information Systems Agency.

On most days, Elliott’s division maintained computers for employees at the Pentagon as well as provided computer instruction and training.

However, soon after the attacks on New York City, that mission was modified to providing computer support and instruction for crisis action teams at the Pentagon — teams that work in the National Military Command Center there monitoring world situations and preparing status reports for the secretary of defense and the president.

When the Pentagon got hit, many in his office on the opposite end of the building didn’t even know what had happened.

“We saw some smoke, but there was no indication that the destruction was as great as it was,” Elliott recounted. “In fact, the first I even knew that an airplane had hit the building was when I saw it on television later.”

All he knew was that he was told to evacuate the building. However, two of his coworkers stayed behind to monitor the computers.

“My primary concern after everybody got out was getting people back into the Pentagon to relieve those left behind. I wanted to make sure that when their eight, 10 or 12 hours were over, somebody else would be there to take over the job,” Elliott said.

As he and his coworkers waited outside the Pentagon, security guards continually pushed them farther away from the building, periodically warning them to take cover because of rumors that another jet was about to hit the Pentagon.

Police eventually closed down the Pentagon and its parking lots, treating the site as a crime scene. Elliott then had no way to get back into the Pentagon, and he couldn’t reach his car because it was now behind the yellow tape.

His only alternative was to figure out how to get to an emergency crisis site in Pennsylvania, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from D.C.

Because of overloaded cell phone systems and telephone lines, Elliott could not contact his wife, Susan, to tell her that he was okay. She didn’t find out he was safe until more than six hours after the attack.

Finally, Elliott said, he caught public transportation to return home and get his second car so he could drive to the alternate crisis site in Pennsylvania.

“I walked to the train station and rode a train, then rode two or three different buses to get home,” he said. “Luckily, by the time I reached my home, I learned the Pentagon was not going to shut down after all, and I was able to drive back out there and help my coworkers.”

Despite being in the midst of the tragedy, Elliott said, “There were a great deal of opportunities to discuss with other people the brevity of life and how you never know what’s going to happen. …

“We as Christians should be united in supporting one another and proclaiming the message that transcends all the temporal things that happen on earth — the message of eternity and hope … no matter what the future brings.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: AT THE PENTAGON ON 9/11.

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  • Mandy Crow