9/11, already 20 years ago—so many vivid memories
Navy Commander John Sexton was one of the first Department of Defense prescribing psychologists: “As soon as you made this request, I couldn’t get that day out of my mind. 9/11 was a day I will never forget. Like most workdays, I rode the 5:30 a.m. Coronado Ferry and bicycled to the Inpatient Substance Abuse Rehab Program of Naval Medical Center, San Diego. I was met at the door to our building shortly after 6 a.m. by a Substance Abuse Counselor who said: ‘Doc, can you believe what happened?’ I walked into our large meeting room to find about a hundred patients glued to the TV in shock as they watched the news. I called for the staff to huddle. I suggested how the counselors could allow some longer breaks during the day’s programming for the patients to watch the news and to weave this horrific occurrence into how people could use traumatic situations as a springboard to health. Since most of the patients were active-duty Marines and Sailors, I suggested to the counselors that they be poised to address the fact that many of them would be mobilized to move into harm’s way. I suggested that the classroom experiences planned for the next few days be modified to incorporate some material about this day while being cognizant of the potential to overload patients who were already dealing with a lot. Most of my scheduled out-patients choose to call in to discuss how they were doing. A brief review of their symptoms afforded me the ability to make any medication adjustments. Like most people working that day, I was driven to take breaks to view a TV in an attempt to process what just occurred. I am sure that nearly all Americans were in that same boat.”
Mike Sullivan: “The APA headquarters building is located a short walk away from the U.S. Capitol, and adjacent to Union Station in Washington, D.C. All of those areas were dramatically affected by the tragic events of 9/11/2001 that forever changed our national psyche. I was working at APA that morning and heard about a plane crashing into the North tower of the World Trade Center. I went to my Practice Directorate colleague Peter Newbould’s office, since Peter always had a TV news channel on for the latest happenings on the Hill, where he lobbied expertly for us. Soon enough we could see the horrific live TV images of the second jetliner flying into the South tower. Any hopes for a horrible accident involving the first plane crashed with it. Who could fathom such horrendous attacks inside our nation’s borders? Nothing in our lifetimes was comparable; we hadn’t been born at the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
“Shaken, we went back to work until, not long after, we got word to evacuate the building and go home. That was after the third jet had flown into the Pentagon and high profile buildings in D.C. were considered targets. No trains were running into or out of Union Station by then, normally a crowded hub of commuter and subway lines. The streets were eerily quiet of traffic except for the roar of fighter jets flying unseen overhead across the brilliant blue sky. It was unnerving and mystifying. We walked to the Metro Center subway station still operating a few stops away. Everyone on my train was talking about the attacks with strangers on the train, a very unusual occurrence.
“One of our psychology community, Dr. Norma Steuerle of Virginia, was a passenger on board the hijacked American Airline Airflight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon, and perished. She was traveling to Japan to meet up with her husband and daughter, who were working in Singapore and in Okinawa. Some days later I paid APA’s respects at the wake of Navy Commander Robert Schlegel killed inside the Pentagon, who was married to fellow psychologist Dr. Dawn Schlegel. A longtime friend of mine worked at the World Trade Center but left late for his office on 9/11, which spared him a similar fate. Sadly, too many others weren’t spared. It may be 20 years later, but how can I ever forget?”
Stephen Behnke: “September 11, 2001 was a beautiful autumn day, a reward for having made it through the sizzling hot and miserably humid Washington summer. I arrived at the ethics office, coffee in hand, to read the morning news on my desk computer. The screen gave me nothing but error notices. After several frustrating minutes, one of my staff appeared: ‘A plane has flown into a building in New York. People are gathering in the sixth-floor boardroom to watch coverage on the big screen. Hurry down.’
“There, for the next several hours, APA staff stood, our silence punctuated by gasps. The first plane could have been an accident, but two? No way. The country was under attack. Another plane was said to be on its way to DC. TV showed people running from the White House. APA staff were told we could go home—but another attack seemed imminent. Was the city safe?
“The coming days were a cocktail of rage, sadness, and fear. But APA found its voice. The association quickly informed news networks about the harmful effects of repeatedly showing clips of people jumping from the towers. APA’s Disaster Relief Network went into high gear, offering services in a broad range of venues. The ethics office continued its work of revising the ethics code, which meant planning a meeting for people who weren’t about to get on an airplane a week after the attacks, 20 years before COVID made virtual gatherings routine. Life went on at APA but would never be the same, as the ripple effects of the terrorist attacks turned to tidal waves in the coming years.”
A new era and important new priorities
Lucinda Maine, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) executive vice president and CEO: “[The AACP] increased its focus on addressing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism (DEIA) progressively for years prior to the George Floyd murder in 2020. Attention to the diversity of AACP staff has resulted in a near majority of team members, including senior leaders, from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) groups. A new leadership development approach, including changes in our elected officer slating procedure, yielded excellent results in the most recent election of AACP Board members. In March 2019, then President David Allen, who served as Dean of the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy until June, 2021, proposed a collaboration with AACP to co-convene the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Institute. The institute model invites colleges and schools of pharmacy to bring teams of three or more individuals to a 2.5 day program with didactic presentations and a significant amount of team time. Each team returns to campus with a plan, in this case a plan to significantly expand their local efforts to address EDI at their institution. A second EDI institute is scheduled for January 2022. Administratively, an AACP staff team coordinates our overall efforts and a large and diverse advisory panel of members has just been implemented. AACP joined CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion in 2020 to support our executive leaders’ education and action planning as well.”
Critical interprofessional collaboration
Public service colleagues work in a wide variety of settings and often with populations and systems that can be “challenging.” Appreciating the value-added by collaborating with professionals from other disciplines, with their own unique backgrounds and training models, is critical for success. Remaining in comfortable professional silos is counterproductive.
Keen Seong Liew (LT, MSC, USN): “The Navy mental health community recently held its inaugural Navy Psych Summit. A virtual event, the summit was a multidisciplinary event focusing on Navy mental health. It was born out of the Navy Day tradition in the Navy clinical psychology community, an annual gathering for clinical psychologists to receive updates on the current state of affairs in the community as well as other trainings to promote professional developments. While Navy Day for clinical psychologists remained exclusive to those in the community, other Navy mental health professionals were invited to attend a range of training that was provided this year. The event attracted an estimated 250 unique attendees from a range of professions, including psychologists, social workers, behavioral health technicians/corpsmen, psychiatrists, nurses and counselors. The training program this year featured one of the recent initiatives in the Navy to promote resiliency, Warrior Toughness, and multiple seminars on clinical topics, presented by experts from the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP).
“On the first day of the summit, we learned about the Warrior Toughness (WT) initiative. This initiative aims to increase toughness—the ability to perform under pressure and withstand devastating impact—among sailors by training their mind, body, and soul. Three esteemed speakers, each representing one of the unique aspects of the whole person approach, gave an overview of how one would train mental, physical and spiritual toughness. SCPO Corbin Cornelison, a senior Navy SEAL, provided an overview of the WT program and his perspective as a warrior on how one can build toughness by building on the warrior mindset, which is guided by Navy values and the commitment to those values. Chaplin Stephan discussed the spiritual aspects of toughness, focusing on one’s identity (or soul) and purpose in getting through difficult and stressful time. Lastly, LCDR Kathleen Saul shared with us her perspective as a psychologist on behaviors that can promote toughness, such as mindfulness, and the implementation and results of the WT program at a recruit training command. The presentations were interactive and generated meaningful discussions among attendees and presenters.
“On the second day, experts from the CDP trained us on a range of clinical topics relevant to the military population. The training divided into two simultaneous training tracks, Generalist and Trauma tracks, allowing attendees to choose their preferred training catered to their needs. In the Generalist track, Marjorie Weinstock presented on intimate partner violence, Carin Lefkowitz presented on common sleep disorders in the military, and Jeff Mann presented on addressing suicide with military-connected patients. In the Trauma track, Kelly Chrestman presented on trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the military, whereas Paula Domenici presented on moral injury. Attendees were provided with state-of-the-art information on the topics. The presenters were again interactive and knowledgeable, addressing comments and questions from the attendees. Additionally, expertly curated handouts were provided to the audience with resources and references that would bolster their clinical practice.
“While the presentations and training were incredibly informative and useful, the summit was a success in large part due to the community who came to support it. Despite ‘Zoom fatigue,’ what is now a common phenomenon during pandemic times due to requited virtual engagements at home, Navy mental health providers came together to train; interacting and staying connected with each other albeit virtually.”
A personal reflection
For me, it is important to appreciate how the tragic events surrounding 9/11 have reshaped our nation’s priorities in countless ways. No longer is travel or visiting various buildings or museums as relaxing or seamless as it once was. Responding to that horrendous day, in which 2,977 innocent individuals were killed and countless others injured, eventually evolved into our nation’s longest war. It is impossible not to be deeply saddened by the knowledge that the daughter of a close friend was at work as an executive pastry chef that morning on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
That fateful morning, I had driven senator Inouye to his speaking engagement in a downtown hotel before an American Indian audience. When we became aware of the planes crashing, we drove to the Senate Hart Office building and saw waves of Senate staffers and visitors rushing towards Union Station. A colleague yelled at us: “You are going the wrong way. Get away from the building, another plane is expected to hit us!” We parked in the underground garage, took the elevator up to his office on the 7th floor, and found very few staff there. After checking around, the senator said “let’s go” and we all departed. As we drove out of the garage a Capitol Hill policeman tapped on the window. “Senator, I am authorized to take YOU to a safe location.” Senator Inouye responded, “So Pat can stay here and be killed? We are fine.”
We drove north on the back roads of D.C. approximately 11.5 miles to Bethesda, the senator clearly having no idea where we were. Finally, we reached his favorite Chinese restaurant where another colleague soon joined us. Then, we went on to our homes and the endless hours of watching television. “It’s life’s illusions that I recall. I really don’t know life at all” (Joni Mitchell).