9/11 then and now: Technology, a memorial, and a SECDEF visit
Everyone remembers where they were when they heard of the infamous 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York, in addition to the Pentagon plane crash and the related Pennsylvania field plane crash. And, as the decade has passed, highlighting largely untouted technological advances that aided in post-9/11/01 al-Quaida seeking missions - in addition to examining Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta's visit to the National September 11 Memorial earlier this week - provides insight into 9/11 ... then and now.
As we head into the coming 9/11 weekend, it once again spurs reflections on how 9/11/2001 is a topic that’s always been close to my heart. Though I knew none of the victims, I still recall the heartfelt, sickening shock I experienced while driving north on the Loop 101 to my job in Scottsdale, Ariz. as I heard of the fateful events. Indeed, instead of the usual cheerful, rhythm-oriented pop music I usually enjoyed on my favorite radio station, I was surprised to hear a very somber DJ reporting a plane crashing into not only one but two of New York’s twin towers. Then subsequent reports of the Pennsylvania field and Pentagon plane crashes came bellowing in, leaving heroes revealed, survivors’ hearts wrenched, and the entire country wondering who – and why?
Then: Technology lent a hand
Soon after the 9/11 attacks, which snuffed out the lives of nearly 3,000 victims, al-Quaida and particularly leader Osama bin Laden were targeted by the U.S. Armed Forces as the alleged perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.
The news media at the time indicated increased military presence to scour the Middle East and especially Afghanistan for culprits, but hushed many details of the military strategy. Thus I was intrigued when I recently edited an interview to appear in the October 2011 edition of Military Embedded Systems magazine. In the interview, Robert Moses, President of iRobot’s Government and Industrial Robots division, reveals that “[The] PackBot [robot] came out of a DARPA program and was first used on the battlefield after 9/11 when we were looking for the enemy in caves in Afghanistan,” he shares. “Before PackBot was being used, we were sending soldiers into caves with lights and a rope tied around their waists. The Rapid Equipping Force was evolving around that time. They said, ‘Hey listen, we’re going to take these robots in here.’” And history was made … quietly this time. Accordingly, the 65-lb PackBots unmanned vehicles/unmanned systems are primarily geared to Explosive Ordinance Disposal [EOD] missions where it’s necessary to thwart IEDs in theater.
“Being able to send a robot in first to see what’s on the other side of the door is extremely important. And the ability to shoot second is very important.” That technology, undoubtedly, helped save even more lives in the aftermath of an already-deadly situation.
Now: SECDEF visits new 9/11 memorial
Moving forward to the present day – just a few days shy of a decade after the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks – found new SECDEF Leon E. Panetta taking a walk through the new National September 11 Memorial earlier this week. (The site also hosts a 9/11 museum to be opened 9/11/12, while the memorial opens to the public this Sunday, 9/11/11.) According to the American Forces Press Service, the memorial spans 8 acres and sits on the soil where the twin towers were. Each former tower’s site is reportedly about 1 acre and now features granite reflecting pools with waterfalls housed by bronze ledges inscribed with victims’ names from the 9/11/2001 and 1993 World Trade Center attacks.
The grounds are already adorned with 200-plus swamp white oak trees, and that number is planned to double, according to a memorial staff member. Of particular noteworthiness is a pear tree at Ground Zero that withstood the 9/11/01 attacks and was thus dubbed the “survivor tree.” It was transferred to a local nursery for some TLC following the attacks, then restored to what is now the memorial site.
Panetta, accompanied by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was the first member of Pres. Obama’s cabinet to tour the memorial (Figure 1). “I think this is going to be a special place for people to … come to and remind themselves not only of the sacrifice that was made, but also the great strength the American people have in coming back,” Panetta said, as reported by the U.S. DoD. “Since 9/11, we have achieved significant success going after al-Quaida and … [its] leadership,” he concluded.
Indeed, bin Laden, who eluded authorities for a decade, was captured and killed by U.S. forces about four months ago.