NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Sept. 11, 2015) – Students at Stratford STEM Magnet High School can’t recall where they were when the towers of the World Trade Center fell on 9-11; they were just babies, toddlers or not even born yet. Fourteen years later they spent Patriot Day touring a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Emergency Command and Control Vehicle and learning about that fateful day from a Corps member who deployed to Pier 90 in Manhattan, N.Y., in the wake of the attack.
James Sowell, safety officer with the Nashville District Operations Division, talked with several groups of students about his experience during 9-11 and showcased the vehicle that provides emergency response teams with network connectivity and communications.
“A lot of you were babies then,” Sowell said. “Today how you face things in society – security and everything we’ve got to do – is based on everything that happened at 9-11. I think about some of the things that I saw when I was there. You could smell the fuel, the dust, and the body parts. To see the faces on the families that were there – that was horrible.”
While in New York in 2001, Sowell said he maintained a vehicle that helped emergency operations, firefighters, police and others to communicate with each other. It was very similar to the vehicle on display for the students at Stratford.
Sowell joined Kevin Gatlin, Nashville District Emergency Management Branch natural disaster manager; and Chris Vega, a civil engineer at Cordell Hull Lake; to brief students about the capabilities of the vehicle, which is maintained in the Nashville District and used for emergency response missions nationwide. In recent years the vehicle has deployed in support of numerous hurricanes, tornadoes and flood fight operations.
Jennifer Berry, academy coach at Stratford, said the school decided to focus on the remembrance of 9-11.
“We have a group of students who were nothing but babies when the event occurred, so we’re really trying to bring it alive for them to understand in context - what does 9-11 mean? How does it impact society? How did it impact first responders from that perspective? Because we’re working with our criminal justice students and many of them are going to go into law enforcement and (will be) first responders and work in social services,” Berry said.
(Video: A choir group at Stratford STEM Magnet High School in Nashville, Tenn., sings the National Anthem to Corps emergency managers who were at the school Sept. 11, 2015 showcasing an Emergency Command and Control Vehicle. Students learned about the missions and capabilities of the vehicle and heard about the experiences of one Corps employee who deployed to Manhattan, N.Y., in the days that followed the attacks in 2001.)
To allow the students to learn more about what it was like on 9-11, the school invited the Corps of Engineers Nashville District’s Emergency Management Section to bring its command and control vehicle so students could learn about its use during national crisis. In addition, it was good to have people who work on the vehicle to share experiences, including at Ground Zero on 9-11, Berry noted.
Brittany Edmondson, criminal justice teacher at Stratford and graduate of the Nashville School of Law, said she shared with her students the news footage from the 9-11 attacks, and explained how America watched everything unfold on TV.
“We talked about how the planes were hijacked. We talked about the first responders. We talked about the first responders who lost their lives from going in, and having after effects from the building and debris. I showed them a little bit of the World Trade Center movie and I showed them a little bit of the Flight 93 movie. And then they were able to see the Corps of Engineers vehicle,” Edmondson explained. “I’m just trying to make it relevant to them so they have a practical experience.”
With the Criminal Justice Program at Stratford, the school is preparing the students that want to become police officers, fire fighters, attorneys, and forensic experts.
“And so to understand how they would come in and do evidence response, how they were deployed, this would be part of their job,” Edmondson said. “It’s very important that they get that practical experience and understand that if this were a situation and that was their job, that’s what they would have to do.”
Eleventh grader A. Haney said it was “cool” to see the Corps of Engineers vehicle and to learn about its function during emergencies. As a criminal justice student she said it’s her goal to join the FBI, and so 9-11 is something very real that she can learn from as she pursues a career.
“I think it’s really sad the tragedy, the lives that were lost on this day years ago,” Haney said. “Every 9-11 I pray for the families that have lost loved ones, for the friends, for the people who lost their lives that day. I watched the videos and it’s just so sad.”
Another student, L. Yarbrough, is in the computer technology program and he said the communication aspect of the command and control vehicle was very interesting because of the work stations and satellite connections.
“I learned how it all operates,” Yarbrough said. “What really kind of got me is the fact that they (Corps members) sometimes don’t eat (when responding to an emergency). I’m a big eater. I like to eat. And sometimes they don’t sleep, and that kind of got my attention… I appreciate these guys going out there and fixing everything up and getting things going.”
Berry said the day’s activities really brought history to life for the students who might one day serve as first responders, which helps them understand the selfless service and sacrifices that naturally come with the job.
“So I’m excited to hear what they have to say, but the look on their faces really speak volumes,” Berry said. “It makes an impact. It brings humanity into the classroom.”
“The students liked touring the vehicle and finding out what we do,” Gatlin added. “We tried to give them not only what we do in response, and what our teams do, but also gave them a general overview of the Corps.”
Gatlin said the different team members got to share information about their jobs and experiences, and different missions of the Corps, including emergency response.
“We really enjoyed coming out here because these kids are great,” Gatlin said. “They are very interested in what we do. It’s a really good program.”
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil
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