by Al Leister
Where were you when…? September 11, 2001 started as a beautiful fall day in Washington, DC. I was the Program Manager for the IT support contract for the Executive Office of the President of the United States. All of my one hundred and twenty fellow workers were going about the daily business of maintaining the White House technology systems. With the aroma of coffee still in the air, most of the White House personnel were gathered near television monitors watching the unbelievable events unfold in New York City. Their focused concern unraveled when Secret Service Agents came running through the halls with Uzis; “Evacuate!” Evacuate! A plane is heading in this direction and intends to hit the White House.” A hurried meeting with my managers confirmed that all systems were I good shape, so we compiled with the evacuation order.
Outside the campus, it was clear Washington was in a siege of chaos; gridlocked traffic in every direction; car bombing rumors; low level streaking F-15s overhead; an overloaded and useless cell phone network. I put a standby crew into a hotel outside the immediate area, giving us the ability to return to the campus as soon as it was allowed. After a headcount, we sent everyone home, both the government and contract employees, not knowing when we would return. We literally walked away and would not reconvene for over twelve hours. I walked to the Pentagon amidst the chaos and confusion, hoping the Metro was operating on the other side of the river. After I viewed the location of the plane’s impact, I knew I had lost some friends. After being chased off by an FBI agent, “Sir, you are standing in a crime scene,” I headed to my apartment. Arriving there, I began to organize our next actions in concert with my government counterparts. The entire White House campus, except for some critical portions, was silent.
Around midnight after the ALL CLEAR signal, my response team found all our systems (a network of some 3000 PCs, almost 200 servers, minicomputers and mainframes) were operating flawlessly – no security breaches, White House.gov up and running! As I drove past the still smoldering Pentagon en route to the White House campus to join my staff and some government counterparts, I reflected on my faith in the American worker, coming from the same stock as the American soldier. It was validated once again. Their daily work was outstanding; given a crisis, they would do what it took to accomplish the mission.
In the next few days, my team, even civilians, “marched to the sound of the guns.” “All hands-on deck.” “Sir, we understand your Commander’s intent.” The 24/7 days that followed were filled with an obscure sense of the unknown – as we tried to adjust to the post 9-11 life in our nation’s capital.
This story of 9-11-01 experiences were prepared for the Class of 1969 Legacy Book and is published here with permission of his family in memory of Albert F. Leister, 1946-2015.