Panetta Praises Pentagon’s 9/11 First Responders
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 9, 2011 Police, fire and other emergency responders who rushed to the Pentagon 10 years ago on Sept. 11 to battle a deadly blaze and save lives, put their own lives on the line, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said this morning.
At a breakfast hosted by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Panetta addressed about 100 first responders from the Arlington County police, fire, and sheriff’s departments, and the Pentagon Force Protection Agency.
Some of these first responders had been called to the Pentagon after terrorists crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the building, killing 184 passengers and Pentagon personnel.
Like those who serve in the military, the secretary said, first responders put their lives on the line to save others.
“You share that mission because all of you are willing to put your lives on the line in order to save others,” Panetta said. “In my book, that makes you part of our family.”
Panetta added, “That's the reason I’m here -- to thank you for being part of our family, the American family, to thank you for your dedication, to thank you for your courage, and most of all to thank you for your patriotism.”
As part of the event, students from Kenmore Middle School, the hotel’s community partner, paid tribute to the first responders with readings, musical performances and a video thanking them for their heroic acts of service.
“It is a particular privilege to be able to come here and … thank you for the bravery and courage that many of you showed on that horrific scene that took place at the Pentagon,” Panetta said.
As thousands of people evacuated the burning Pentagon that morning, the secretary said, first responders headed toward it.
Panetta, with several family members who have served as police officers and volunteer firemen, said, “First responders are the ones who determine life and death, in some ways.”
First responders provide essential comfort, care and treatment for injured survivors, he added.
“You have to face the threats that are involved in the effort to try to save others' lives. The burns, the devastating injuries that demand immediate attention,” the secretary said.
“For 36 exhausting hours, firefighters battled what was truly an epic blaze,” he added. “I cannot even begin to imagine what it was like when all of that air[craft] fuel turned to fire. Trying to conduct a search, trying to do a rescue operation in that kind of situation is absolutely incredible.”
Those who were first on the scene and entered the Pentagon had no idea if the fire would spread or whether the building's infrastructure would hold up, he said.
In their determination to battle the blaze and try to shore the building up, the secretary added, firefighters recognized that in addition to saving lives, it was vitally important to keep the Pentagon in operation so the military could protect the country and respond to those who had attacked the nation.
All these efforts took place, Panetta said, in a scene of chaos amid reports of possible new attacks.
“As the entire nation comes together this weekend to mark the 10th anniversary of that terrible day,” the secretary said, “the American people, I think, will forever remember the scenes of courage and caring that personify our national character.”
Those who attacked the nation on 9/11 were trying to weaken and hurt America, Panetta said, “and instead they strengthened us.”
The United States made clear, he added, that if attacked, “we will come and get you.”
To the first responders, Panetta said, “As we take this moment to thank all of you for these heroic efforts, I want you to know how much I appreciate the work that you do every day.
“Thanks to you,” the secretary added, “we really can work and live in the safety and knowledge that in the event of an emergency, you're going to be there to help us.”