In time of shock, Pentagon responded

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WASHINGTON D.C. -- As the horror of the planes hitting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon unfolded, millions of stunned Americans were thinking, what's next? But one group of military personnel was already planning America's next move.

Colonel Don Hickman was working at Bolling Air Force Base across the Potomac river from the Pentagon the morning of September 11th. Just after 8:46 a.m., he heard a knock at the door and then received a message that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

"Like all other Americans who were watching the news that morning, I saw the tower burn and then saw the second plane fly into the tower," he said. "We began thinking through what we had to do and somebody knocked on the door again. I was in a classified area, so we didn't have windows."

American Airlines Flight 77 had hit the Pentagon --significant for Hickman considering he was the medical planner working for the Surgeon General of the Air Force.

"That day, the surgeon general looked at me and the other planner that was there that day and said, 'You two stay. The rest of you go home.' We stayed and planned the immediate response to the attacks."

Hickman began ordering deployable hospitals into place in New Jersey across the river from Manhattan: blood products needed to be moved quickly, medically equipped C-17s needed to transport patients. In the 72 hours after the attacks, Hickman worked with the Air Force's Secretary, Chief of Staff and Surgeon General.

"There was a sense of shock," Hickman said. "But we're trained; we know exactly what to do. We overcame that emotion, that worry, and we did what we had to do."

Weeks turned into months later, and Hickman began working in the still-damaged Pentagon. With 23,000 employees, it's a massive building, a small city, Hickman said.

"For those first couple of months, there was very little noise, there was the smell of smoke."

Hickman said it took about a year for the smell of smoke to disappear. But the memory of that day remains.

"I think Americans need to be proud of who we are and what we stand for," he said. "We have a responsibility as Americans to remember the past --to remember those who have fallen, and to remember those who are currently serving."

Colonel Hickman worked two solid days straight right after the terrorist attacks. He said the first thing he did when he got home was hug his family.

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Lori Prichard


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