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Task Force Steel Commander Reflects on Pentagon Attack

By Sgt. Frank Magni, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Sept. 10, 2004 – While much of the world watched the events of Sept. 11, 2001, unfold on TV screens, Army Lt. Col. Clarence Neason, Task Force Steel commander, saw the damage with his own eyes.

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Army Lt. Col. Clarence Neason, Task Force Steel commander, pulls security with his soldiers during a convoy in Afghanistan. Neason witnessed the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon, and said he has used that experience to reaffirm his commitment to the Army. Courtesy Photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

It was a day that reaffirmed his commitment, service and passion to the U.S. Army. The event is also something he recalls daily, focusing his strengths on the mission he and his unit have deployed in support of, along with the rest of Combined Joint Task Force-76 in Afghanistan.

During the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Neason was assigned to the Pentagon as a special assistant to former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki. When the plane hit, Neason was across the Potomac River at the National War College on Fort McNair, where he was attending a briefing. His first indication the attacks had occurred was a plume of gray smoke that filled the sky over Washington, D.C.

"I just couldn't believe it was happening, my only reaction was to go there to see if I could help," said Neason. Driving through thick traffic, he arrived back at the Pentagon a few hours after the plane hit.

When he initially arrived on the scene he described it as chaotic. "Some people were trying to get into the building, while others were trying to get out," he said. "Just getting accountability for all our people was a big challenge."

In the midst of the chaos, Neason said he noticed a prevalent theme in the spirit of the Pentagon workers. "People were really reaching out and helping one another," he said. "The actions of those terrorists was meant to split us apart, but all it did was bring us together."

Returning to work the next day, Neason said he noticed a change in the atmosphere within the building. "Even the day after it happened, everybody was much more focused," he said. "There was a lot of anger and concern, but we all stood ready to respond.

"We recognized we had vulnerabilities and worked to correct them," he said. "The attacks really brought a sober sense of reality. You just want to make sure nothing like 9/11 can happen again."

Neason said the attacks strengthened his devotion toward being a soldier and he looked for every opportunity to contribute. He served at the Pentagon for nine more months following the attacks. He watched as the building was rebuilt and the war on terror began. He then moved to the 25th Infantry Division (Light) in Hawaii to assume command of 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment.

Even before his unit was notified of their deployment to Afghanistan, Neason said, he noticed a difference in his new soldiers and their training. He said the attacks added an element of reality because soldiers were overseas engaging the enemy as his unit prepared for possible future deployments.

The emphasis on training also became increasingly important after his unit learned it would deploy to Afghanistan and perform a non-traditional role for field-artillery units, he said.

Deployed to Kandahar Airfield for the past four months, the unit provides a variety of fire-support missions. From illumination to fire-for-effect fire missions, the "Redleg" soldiers of TF Steel support not only the maneuver elements of Combined Task Force Bronco in Regional Command South, but also Combined Task Force Thunder in Regional Command East.

In addition to their fire-support missions, the unit is also responsible for security in an area of operations in and around Kandahar city. Filling roles traditionally performed by infantry or military-police units, TF Steel conducts mounted and dismounted presence patrols, along with village assessments.

Neason said that by providing security in the area, TF Steel facilitates reconstruction from not only coalition forces, but also from other non- governmental organizations. "This mission is not in lieu of, it is in addition to, our traditional mission," he said.

The unit's total mission keeps Neason busy with a variety of different tasks, working closely with local leaders in the TF Steel area of operations. "Village elders remember what it was like before we got here," he said. "They are very willing to work with us."

Forging a partnership with the local leaders and assisting in security and reconstruction are now Neason's unit's primary missions. "The mission here is very satisfying for me," he said. "I see soldiers making a difference every day. It is such an amazing thing."

Just knowing that he is making his own individual contribution toward preventing any future attacks is one of the most important aspects of his mission in Afghanistan. "Although I think about the Pentagon every day, I try not to personalize it," he said. "I don't let any anger that I felt about the attack affect my job here.

"I just let my memory reaffirm my commitment and service to the Army."

(Army Sgt. Frank Magni is a member of the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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