9/11 remembered: Texoma vets talk service, the War on Terror

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Penny Poolaw sits in her office at the Sherman VFW Post 2772. Poolaw served in the Army National Guard and was deployed to Iraq in 2007.

For countless people across the country, the events of Sept. 11, 2001 changed the  very way they lived their lives. The coordinated attack on targets in New York, Virginia, and a failed attack in Pennsylvania, left the country shaken and bleeding but not broken.

Following the attacks, the U.S. engaged in the War on Terror, which led to wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, veterans of those wars are looking back at that eventful day 20 years ago and the events that followed it.

"When 9/11 happened, the world, the United States came together. It brought us together again," VFW Post 2772 Commander Penny Poolaw said. "We cared about our neighbors. We checked on our neighbors. We did things to help our neighbors."

Serving on that day

Poolaw served in the Army National Guard as a reservist from 1992-2012 and was deployed to Iraq in 2007 and 2008. Poolaw was serving at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune on Sept. 11, 2001.

Sign near entrance to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune Thursday 23 July 2009.  ALTHOUSE CamLejeune

Poolaw was helping to provide child care for newly-arriving marines who were assigned to the base. Once news of the attacks spread, she and others on the base gathered around televisions to watch the events unfold, and to get updates. 

"For a time, no one really knew what was happening when that first tower was hit. And then, the second tower was hit, and it was pretty much apparent to most people that it was a terrorist attack," she said.

Following the attacks, the base was put on lockdown. However, Poolaw said there was an air of numbness as the gravity of the situation had not fully set in for many people.

"There was still this numbness that you feel. In some ways, it was similar to when those 13 marines were killed," Poolaw referenced the suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 26 of this year.

It took a few days for the reality of the situation to full set in. One of the first signs that things had changed happened when Poolaw needed to take a trip off base.

"We went out off post to do something, I can't remember," she added that all vehicles had to be searched before they were allowed back. "It was a real nightmare to get back on base."

Despite the heartache following the attacks, Poolaw said American came together in a way unlike any other. Neighbors checked in on each other, families reconnected and communities supported each other during a difficult time in American history.

"There was a lot of good that happened in our communities shortly after that," she said.

U.S. Marines with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment prepare to board a CH-53K for an air assault training exercise at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, June 10, 2021.

Poolaw was deployed to Iraq in 2007 and served at Camp Cropper, a holding facility near Baghdad International Airport. By this point, the unity and support that had grown after 9/11 had diminished.

"It was almost like people had forgotten," she attributed it to time.

Poolaw said her work in Iraq with detainees was difficult, in part, because many of the detainees disrespected her due to her gender.

"It wasn't an easy job to do, especially with me being female," she explained how male counterparts were treated better. "I was the only female on the compound. They didn't have respect for me as a female. Some tried to manipulate me to get me to do things for them."

Poolaw said experiences during the two wars changed her. Following service, Poolaw still doesn't like crowds and tends to avoid them. She also experienced a sense of hyper vigilance that over time has slowly worn away.

"I am more paranoid than I used to be," she said. "I pay more attention to the things around me, and I am more aware of my surroundings when I am out and about."

Serving after the attack

While Poolaw was already in the armed forces, Colt Floyd was still a civilian college student on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Floyd served in the U.S. Army from 2003 until 2014 and was deployed twice to Afghanistan.

Currently, Floyd serves as the lead case manager for North Texas Regional Veterans Court.

At the time of the attacks, Floyd was in his freshman year at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma City where he played football. He was returning from morning classes when he saw the news coverage of the events on television.

"They had hit the first tower, and I just sat there and watched it unfold from there," he said. "It took a little while for things to resonate. I had a disagreement with one of my roommates, so it caused a little volatility in my dorm room."

Floyd attributed his decision to enlist in the army, in part, due to the events of 9/11 and uncertainty of what he would do after college. A conversation with his grandfather, who served as an army colonel, made all the difference.

Floyd's first deployment had him doing extensive work around Kabul in 2006 and 2007. During that time, Floyd saw only one casualty. Following his first deployment, Floyd served within a mobile training unit before he received deployment orders again in 2011 and 2012.

U.S. soldiers west of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Jan. 28, 2012.

"It was a lot different from my first (deployment) in that we were doing disruption operations and coming into direct contact with the Taliban, and it was very traumatic," Floyd said. "We lost 14 (soldiers) within the first 90 days of combat."

During this second deployment, Floyd suffered an injury that ultimately led to his medical separation from the military.

2003: Army Chaplain (Col.) Richard Rogers performs last rites for six airmen killed when their HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter crashed near Ghazni, Afghanistan, March 23. The crew was on its way to pick up two Afghan children for treatment in U.S. medical facilities at Bagram Air Base. The remains were flown to Dover Air Force Base.

Since returning to civilian life, he has been able to take his experiences, including the trauma he experienced during his service, and use it in the service of others working their way through the veterans court system.

"My services to my country are what I like to say are the best worst days of my life," he said. "When it is good, it is great. When it is not it was usually catastrophic, a loss of life or something like that. However, I am thankful for the time I served and the men that I served alongside. It really is many veterans will tell you: it is all about that person to your left and your right. I use that analogy today because mental health is such an important thing and we need to take care of our own."

More:9/11 remembered: Herald Democrat reports 20 years later

More:9/11 remembered: Sherman Emergency Management Coordinator on 9/11 recalls the day

More:9/11 remembered: 3 local observances on 20th anniversary

More:9/11 remembered: Expo to connect veterans, service groups

More:Extra: How the Herald Democrat covered 9/11 20 years ago