A Remembrance of 9/11

Editor's Note: Small Wars Journal is privileged to present this account of the events at Ground Zero from the perspective of a U.S. Navy EOD Technician working with the Secret Service at the U.N. General Assembly.

A Remembrance of 9/11

by Stephen Phillips

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Five men stood together on the New York subway car as it headed toward the World Trade Center. Any passengers who noticed them would mark their similarities; athletic builds, short haircuts, and each one wearing the exact same black backpack. A first guess might be that they were missionaries, that their bags were filled with Bibles and proselytizing literature. These men were in fact on a mission, not to convert souls, but to protect heads of state. Their packs did not contain religious paraphernalia, but carried tools of the trade for bomb disposal.

The U.S. Secret Service utilizes military Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technicians to provide bomb search services. Thus, EOD Techs often wear civilian clothes and carry Department of Defense credentials while assisting the USSS in providing a safe environment for the president, presidential candidates, or visiting heads of state. One of the busiest times for the latter mission is during the U.N. General Assembly when dozens of kings, queens, presidents, and prime ministers descend into New York for two weeks of talks. This event occurs annually in September.

Boatswain's Mate First Class Jim Prewitt and Sonar Technician Surface Second Class James "Billy" Little were two of the five men from EOD Mobile Unit Six heading to World Trade Center Seven (WTC 7) to receive a briefing on their assignments for the U.N. General Assembly. Earlier that morning the pair found a place to eat a big breakfast within walking distance of their hotel. Prewitt was amazed as he watched Little consume platefuls of food. He knew that the two sailors were connected for this mission by design. Though clearly seasoned, Little was the junior of the two. Prewitt, though not yet a chief petty officer, had achieved recognition as a Master EOD Technician. In fact, when Billy Little was a student at Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Prewitt was one of the instructors. Such an encounter is not uncommon in EOD. In a small, select community, instructors often find themselves serving with former students. This is an extra incentive to ensure everyone who emerges from the curriculum with an EOD "crab" -- the breast insignia worn by all EOD Techs - is capable. Thus, while watching Little eat a second helping, not a single concern crossed Prewitt's mind about the two of them working together in the most dangerous of environments. As they headed for the subway forty minutes later, events were unfolding that would thrust them into such an environment -- Ground Zero of 9/11.

Download the Full Article: A Remembrance of 9/11

Stephen Phillips served in the U.S. Navy as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician. He is the author of the award winning novel, Proximity A Novel of the Navy's Elite Bomb Squad .

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A big thanks to Stephen Phillips for putting this account of 9/11 to words.