Bringing God to the PentagonBill Broome March/April 2002
Bringing God to the Pentagon
By Bill Broome
Bill Broome was at ground zero the day the Pentagon. was attacked. He works in the Personnel Department at the Army Chief of Chaplains Office. He helps make assignments for Army chaplains all over the world, but his job is not about paper-it's about people.
These are serious times. As I hurried to the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, I was mindful of a Bible text that says we will "hear of wars and rumors of wars:' Jesus predicted this sort of situation in the times preceding His return to the earth. That went through my mind, and a sudden peace came over me, even 30ugh the situation was troubling.
My new office was to be in the newly renovated wing, right where the plane penetrated the Pentagon. It was still going to be some time before we moved back in, as they had a lot of renovating to do. Until 1997 the Chief of Chaplains Office was right there at ground zero, in the office where Lieutenant General Maude lost his life. Window spaces at the Pentagon are at a premium, so many of the general officers had their rooms along that section, which looks out over the heliport.
I had been working at our temporary offices at the ?residential Towers over in Crystal City, which is about 15 minutes away. I was watching television, trying to comprehend the horror of the attack on the World Trade Center and wondering what exactly was going on. Then the room seemed to clear. The colonels and the one general there, Dave Hicks, our deputy chief of chaplains, went out and began to look at other things. I lingered just a little bit longer, kind of dazed, I guess, as I watched the television news. Suddenly a news flash came on that the Pentagon had been hit. I ran out to the others and said, "You won't believe this; the Pentagon has been hit!" Sure enough, we looked out our window and saw the billowing smoke. Grabbing our berets, we headed out and literally ran over to the Pentagon.
When we got there, I was amazed at the security that was already in place. Men with machine guns, Secret Service agents with machine guns standing guard, turning everyone back: "Get away. Where's your identification?" But when they saw our crosses, they said, "Chaplains, you're needed" And they let us through.
We ran around to the side of the Pentagon that had been hit and got there just as the wall fell, amid screams, amid scenes that I hadn't thought I could see again after Vietnam. As we rounded the corner we asked, "Where are the wounded? What can we do?"
Chaplains were already stationed with those wounded who had been pulled out. Unbeknownst to us at that time, those "Were the last people from that area who would get out. We knew that there were others in there who were alive at that time, but the flames, the smoke, and the toxic fumes did not allow us to go in after them. It was very, very frustrating.
As we walked around ministering to those who had just come out of the building, we were asking "OK, how do we form this up?" A structure began to take place. We placed chaplains with each rescue team that was preparing to go back in. Teams of volunteers-men and women in uniform and in civilian clothes-were all saying, "We want to go back in and get our friends out if we can" We got into the hallways several times, but the smoke and acrid fumes turned us back. It crossed my mind-and, I'm sure, the minds of many others- that there was not going to be much hope for anyone left in that building.
As the day wore on, we stood helplessly, watching the Pentagon burn. It was really the very strangest feeling. We formed up, saying, "We need to have some chaplains here on this site. We need to put together a chaplains' operational cell so that we can direct where people need to go. We need to put chaplains over with the Mortuary Affairs. We need to put chaplains with teams going in and coming out:'
We began to organize. Then I looked up, and here came Admiral Biggers, one of our Seventh-day Adventist one-star admirals on active duty. I'm sure Admiral Barry Black, the chief chaplain, would have been there as well but for the fact that he was stuck on a submarine off the West Coast. When the flights shut down, he couldn't get back. Our Adventist chaplains were right there at the front. We recognized the unfolding of prophecy in these events. And like most of our fellow citizens we knew that this would take our nation onto yet another stage: a stage we now look at as warfare on our home front. Still, amid all the chaos, a peace came to me as I thought of God's leading for those who trust Him.
Let me tell you Just a little bit about what the chaplains did during that difficult time. That evening I took over as head of our operational cell that directed the 12 different sites where chaplains served. I took the night shift, and we began to run 12-hour shifts on a 24 hour operation. I did eight days on the night shift. It was extremely tiring, but we wanted to keep tabs on what our chaplains were doing and where they were.
Probably the most difficult assignment was mortuary detail. When a plane loaded with jet fuel hits a building you can imagine the carnage. Well, really, you can't imagine it. I can tell you about it, but you can't imagine it unless you've actually seen the horror and the devastation that brings to human body. I'm not going to go into morbid detail, but I want you to try to imagine what soldiers, rescue workers, FBI teams, and chaplains had to deal with.
We had a chaplain stationed with every group that brought out human remains. A Protestant chaplain and Catholic chaplain said prayers over those remains. Not really for those remains; they were beyond knowing. It was for those soldiers, it was for those rescue workers, who looked over as they brought out the remains and said, Chaplain, what do you have to say?"
Rick Spencer is a young priest I work with-a tremendous guy. He walked over to the soldiers, put his hands on them, and said, "You're doing what's needed. You're doing what God wants you to do at this time;" I'll tell you there was a peace that came over those young soldiers. They were a hand picked, as the sharpest-looking soldiers in the Army, for the Old Guard. They are all over six feet and when you walk by them it is really intimidating. Their dress uniforms look really sharp, their weapons are all shined up, they carry swords, and they do the dress ceremonies at funerals. They do all the dress ceremonies when the president is around.
Another chaplain was stationed with the FBI agents. As you might know, the FBI took over the site as a criminal investigation. It was kind of strange for the military to be told by the FBI, "Here's what happens. And no, General, you can't go over there; we run this site;' Some of our generals had a difficult time ,with that.
Once the remains were taken from Mortuary Affairs they were turned over to the FBI down by the river, where no news cameras could film and intrude. The FBI then had to investigate the remains to identify the terrorists. They were looking for any identification-any material that they could use in the criminal investigation. The chaplain stationed there was Jim Bolens, another Lieutenant Colonel who works in the Pentagon, and a very good friend of mine. Those agents had to actually search through the bodies. As he spoke with them, they said, "We've never had to do these kinds of things before."
Just recently I spoke by phone with Seventh-day Adventist Chaplain Jonathan McGraw in Hawaii. He is spearheading a family wellness program for the Army, and we know it is going to be needed. We don't know what the days ahead are going to bring, but we do know that they are going to be difficult for families.
Some of the other chaplains went immediately to the Family Assistance Center, which was over at the Sheraton in Crystal City. The Sheraton staff opened their arms and their hearts and said, "We'll give you free rooms for the families who need to come in to find out about loved ones. We'll give them meal tickets; we'll give you counseling rooms; and we'll give you everything you need." At that Family Assistance Center people could come and talk to Navy, Air Force, and Army chaplains. While only the Navy and Army lost personnel, the Air Force gladly came over and helped.
I had to go over and do notifications for next of kin for families who were waiting, really, with no hope. However, they were glad that we could tell them that their loved one ad been identified. But the remains could not yet be released, because of the criminal investigation. These are hard times; these are difficult times. Your prayers need to go out for all those families who are going through this and for the chaplains who bring them comfort.
Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Bill Broome works out of the Pentagon. He has 22 years of active duty in the US. military. Some of that time he served as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. Most of his service has been as a chaplain-going where there is a spiritual need.