Face of Defense: Chaplain Recalls 9/11’s Horror

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan, Aug. 31, 2011 — Navy Chap­lain (Capt.) Ron­dall Brown’s thick Blue Ridge Moun­tain drawl makes its pres­ence known here, as he describes his expe­ri­ences in New York City a decade ago with one word — hor­ror.

Brown, a 23-year Navy vet­er­an, said his intro­duc­tion to hor­ror came 10 years ago and 10,000 miles from here in New York City dur­ing the 9/11 ter­ror­ist attacks. He was then a lieu­tenant com­man­der serv­ing as a chap­lain for a Coast Guard unit in New Eng­land.

Brown, who hails from Haysville, N.C., spent sev­er­al weeks in New York’s ground zero area imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing the attacks help­ing dev­as­tat­ed fam­i­lies through the cat­a­stro­phe.

Brown seemed to be able to recall every­one he’d helped through the dev­as­ta­tion in Man­hat­tan.

“I remem­ber one lady col­laps­ing and just cry­ing out, ‘Oh my God, my baby! I will nev­er see her again!’ ” Brown said.

The woman’s hus­band, he added, had just “stood there, big guy, clenched fists, with tears stream­ing down his face. He nev­er said a word.”

Brown spoke with long paus­es as he recalled the hor­rif­ic events of that day.

“I apol­o­gize,” the chap­lain said, run­ning his fin­gers through his short crop of gray hair. “I’m not nor­mal­ly like this.”

Today, Brown serves here as the com­mand chap­lain for the 2nd Marine Air­craft Wing (For­ward).

Serv­ing in Afghanistan “brings a peace for me,” said Brown, his face flushed crim­son with emo­tion. “We are doing some­thing to pre­vent it from occur­ring again.

“If you had been there, and have the vivid mem­o­ries I do of the hor­ror these fam­i­lies went through, it’s unimag­in­able,” he added. “There was noth­ing to take home. There were no bod­ies.”

“In one sense it seems much longer than 10 years ago, but in anoth­er sense it feels just like yes­ter­day,” Brown said. “I think for the peo­ple who had loved ones die, it’s a very vivid mem­o­ry.”

Brown also recalled the awful smell and heavy dust that per­vad­ed the dis­as­ter zone at ground zero.

“They gave me a lit­tle mask to wear, but I nev­er wore it,” he said. “You can’t talk to peo­ple and wear a mask.”

The chap­lain said it was impor­tant to him to be in Afghanistan on the 10th anniver­sary of the attacks. He said it was impor­tant to work to erad­i­cate vio­lence in this once ter­ror-strick­en region.

“There’s nev­er a mea­sure­ment you can put on the loss of a life, civil­ian or mil­i­tary. But should we be here? Yes, I think so,” Brown said. “Peo­ple here are begin­ning to take lead­er­ship. They’re feel­ing con­fi­dent with sup­port from the gov­ern­ment, with sup­port from the Amer­i­can and coali­tion troops.

“When I was in Iraq in al Anbar,” he con­tin­ued, “the tide turned there when the peo­ple said to the insur­gency, ‘OK, we have had enough of what you are doing to the inno­cent civil­ians.’ ”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)