CIRCLEVILLE — Every person who was alive on 9/11 has a story to share, whether they were at work, in the classroom or sleeping in, but for Pickaway County EMA Director, he has a special tale.
Darrin Flick was active duty in the Marine Corps at Camp LeJune in North Carolina on 9/11. He was a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defense officer.
“I was waiting to go into a meeting and our intelligence officer always had CNN on in his office,” he said. “I walked up and I’m looking at the news and at the time, I was going through my private pilot license, and I saw a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I thought, ‘that’s not right.’ My little bit of experience in flying was that you just don’t crash into very tall buildings. As we were sitting there, the second plane hit and I was shocked.”
Flick said they had a normal staff meeting and talked a bit about the event but didn’t understand the implications of what happened. However, things changed after the meeting concluded.
“By the time we got out, we heard about the Pentagon and all hell kind of broke loose,” he said. “Everyone at Camp LeJune went into crisis mode, they locked the base down and we established roving armed guards, which we didn’t usually do, and we had heard reports of additional reports of additional plains. We had people on top of the roofs looking for planes and everything else. We thought we’d be hopping on planes on that night to go fight someone somewhere.”
Flick said he spoke with his wife who picked up their kids and was at home, but he didn’t join them until close to midnight.
“They locked the base down, nobody on or off,” he said. “We stayed late doing contingency plans for everything we could think of. What if this happens or what if that happens? That was my 9/11.”
Flick said shortly after 9/11, the Marine Corps established the Fourth Marine Expeditionary Brigade for Anti-Terrorism and he was assigned to that group as the CBRN officer.
“Once we retook the embassy in Kabul, we took over security of that embassy,” he said. “At that time, there was a perceived threat of WMDs in Afghanistan and I had the job of setting up the sensor array at the embassy that if something happened, we could do something to protect everyone there.”
After that, their unit went into a planning mode and the first rumblings of going into Iraq were discussed.
“We were getting ready to remove Saddam Hussain and find the weapons of mass destruction there,” he said. “That became the focus of it at that point. I was a CBRN assigned to the First Marine Division for Operation Iraqi Freedom and I was the guy looking for weapons of mass destruction on the ground during the push to Baghdad.”
Flick said 9/11 shaped the course of his life and has to this day.
“Since then, I’ve been bouncing around from contingency to contingency, even after I retired from the Marine Corps and went to work for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Pentagon Force Protection Agency,” he said.
“The things I was doing overseas were as a result of what happened on 9/11 and our continued efforts to stop Al-Qaida across the globe. I spent many a day and night away from friends as a result of that and I lost a lot of people.”
Flick said pre-9/11, running planes into buildings wasn’t something people thought or worried about and that security at airports was much less than it is now.
“Interestingly enough, there’s a Tom Clancy Book where at the very end of the book, there was a war between Japan and the United States in present day and as a result of that, a Japanese airline pilot who lost his brother during that war crashes a plane into the U.S. Capitol. This was years before 9/11 and I went back to read it afterward, but that wasn’t something that was on our radar or that we thought of.
Pre-9/11 security at airports was almost non-existent and our air marshal program was almost non-existent. I won’t say it was complacency, but there was a false sense of security. ”
Flick said during his time at the Pentagon, they had policies that were changed from before.
“Every base and the Pentagon was pretty much open before 9/11,” he said. “Anyone could just walk there and go in. It was the same for any base — you showed a driver’s license and you went in. Some bases there didn’t even have gate guards, they were just open and you’d just drive on to military bases. Pretty much anyone that wanted to go in could. After 9/11, you had all those massive amounts of hardening that occurred.”
Flick said there were the anthrax attacks, known as Amerithrax, that went on in the early to mid 2000s.
“That was more my realm, so that’s where I saw the institution of all the chemical biological defense programs around the Pentagon and our strategic national assets,” he said. “If someone mailed white powder, to the president as an example, it was intercepted well before it got there.”
Flick said at the Pentagon, the side that was hit, everything was replaced except for one giant brick that’s part of the foundation.
“It’s still charred from the jet fuel that burned there and right behind it is a chapel that’s there as a commemoration to 9/11,” he said. “There’s a lot that happened there as a result.”
Flick said those that carried out the attacks did so with relatively little resources compared to the amount of lives lost on 9/11 and since as well as the trillions of dollars around the world.
Flick also visited New York City in the wake of the attacks.
“I used to have a guy that worked for me who was an Army reservist and he’d work here and there, but his full time job was to work for FDNY and he was on the HAZMAT team in New York,” he said.
“The Chem/Bio Incident Response Force [CBIRF] was up there doing training with the New York Fire Department and I went to observe the training. We went into a lot of the firehouses in the city and every one we went into had a memorial for the guys they lost.
We went to 10 houses, which sits at the base of the Trade Center and you can’t put into words the loss on that day to that community.”
Flick said he was in a meeting on the 10th anniversary of the event and was working with people in various counter-terrorism fields when everyone went around the table on where they were. He shared one story of a lady who was at the Pentagon.
“She told me she’d been a smoker her whole life and that she’d be a smoker until the day she dies,” he said. “She told us she was working at the Navy side of the Pentagon on 9/11 and she went to go get a smoke break and that’s when the plane hit and took out her office and a bunch of people she worked with who died. She said if she wasn’t a smoker and didn’t take that smoke break, she wouldn’t have lived.”