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9/11 Memories - Kate McGraw

Kate McGraw, DCoE Deployment Health Clinical Center interim director Kate McGraw, DCoE Deployment Health Clinical Center interim director

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The 9/11 terrorist attacks happened the day before I became flight commander and chief of mental health at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. The role included providing operational mental health support for Dover Port Mortuary and its mission to ensure dignity, honor and respect for the fallen as they prepare fallen service members to return to their families.

When we heard the World Trade Center tower was hit, my team immediately went into a 24/7 operational battle rhythm that lasted for six weeks. I led a team of 20 mental health providers who supported all mortuary workers including individuals from all medical specialties, law enforcement and support staff. Our team’s job was to offer constant support to mortuary staff to ensure individuals were functioning from a mental health perspective and to assist those who weren’t.

It was an incredibly tough, stressful job for many reasons. It was my first time working with remains and it was a personal challenge to stay fully available and functional in an environment with so much loss. The reality of the impact of war really hit home – what it does to the physical body and the huge sacrifice our military members make on a daily basis. I managed by focusing on the importance of the lives lost and leading an amazing team that was steadfastly dedicated to ensuring proper respect for the fallen service members and their families.

Many people who worked in mortuary affairs during that time suffered for years afterward, whether they were dentists, chaplains, medical examiners or staff at military treatment facilities who arranged body transfers. I was forever changed as well. I rarely talk about that time and watched no media coverage of the attacks for at least 10 years. Even though we are in the military or support the military and understand its mission, we are all human and are all impacted by traumatic events.

After my two-year assignment at Dover, I left the military for family reasons and went into the civilian sector. But I soon returned to Dover and eventually came to the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury where I continue to work to improve the psychological health of our nation’s service members and their families. There is no greater mission, and that fact was never truer than on Sept. 11, 2001.

McGraw is now the interim director of the Deployment Health Clinical Center, one of three centers of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE).

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9/11/2016
A section of the Pentagon lies in ruins following the deadly Sep. 11 terrorist attack in which a hijacked commercial airliner was crashed into the Pentagon. American Airlines FLT 77 was bound for Los Angeles from Washington Dulles with 58 passengers and 6 crew. All aboard the aircraft were killed, along with 125 people in the Pentagon. (U. S. Naval photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass)

A section of the Pentagon lies in ruins following the deadly Sep. 11 terrorist attack in which a hijacked commercial airliner was crashed into the Pentagon. American Airlines FLT 77 was bound for Los Angeles from Washington Dulles with 58 passengers and 6 crew. All aboard the aircraft were killed, along with 125 people in the Pentagon. (U. S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass)

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Pentagon Flag

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9/11/2016
Military Service members render honors as fire and rescue workers unfurl a huge American flag over the side of the Pentagon during rescue and recovery efforts following the Sept 11 terrorist attack. The attack came at approximately 9:40 a.m. as a hijacked commercial airliner, originating from Washington D.C.'s Dulles airport, was flown into the southern side of the building facing Route 27. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass)

Military Service members render honors as fire and rescue workers unfurl a huge American flag over the side of the Pentagon during rescue and recovery efforts following the Sept 11 terrorist attack. The attack came at approximately 9:40 a.m. as a hijacked commercial airliner, originating from Washington D.C.'s Dulles airport, was flown into the southern side of the building facing Route 27. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass)

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Pentagon Scene

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9/11/2016
A fire fighter from Arlington County, Fire Department surveys the scene during rescue and recovery efforts following the deadly Sep. 11 terrorist attack in which a hijacked commercial airliner was crashed into the Pentagon. American Airlines FLT 77 was bound for Los Angeles from Washington Dulles with 58 passengers and 6 crew. All aboard the aircraft were killed, along with 125 people in the Pentagon. (U.S. Naval photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass.)

A fire fighter from Arlington County, Fire Department surveys the scene during rescue and recovery efforts following the deadly Sep. 11 terrorist attack in which a hijacked commercial airliner was crashed into the Pentagon. American Airlines FLT 77 was bound for Los Angeles from Washington Dulles with 58 passengers and 6 crew. All aboard the aircraft were killed, along with 125 people in the Pentagon. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass.)

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Garrison Flag at Pentagon

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9/10/2016
The garrison flag is hung from the still smoldering Pentagon by service members and firefighters. (DoD photo)

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Former Pentagon clinic chief Talks with First Responders

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9/5/2016
Dr. James Geiling (center), at the time an Army colonel in charge of the Pentagon's DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic, talks with local first responders and senior military commanders after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Dr. James Geiling (center), at the time an Army colonel in charge of the Pentagon's DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic, talks with local first responders and senior military commanders after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

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Former Pentagon clinic chief surveys scene at the Pentagon

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Dr. James Geiling, at the time an Army colonel in charge of the Pentagon's DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic, surveys the scene after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Dr. James Geiling, at the time an Army colonel in charge of the Pentagon's DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic, surveys the scene after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

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Former Pentagon clinic chief directs medical response

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Dr. James Geiling (back to camera, in the blue vest), at the time an Army colonel in charge of the Pentagon's DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic, directs the medical response after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Dr. James Geiling (back to camera, in the blue vest), at the time an Army colonel in charge of the Pentagon's DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic, directs the medical response after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

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Dawn S. Marvin

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Dawn S. Marvin, Department Chief of Strategic Communications at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center wrote this coverage of Operation Noble Eagle in Sept 2001 and in 2003 respectively.

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USNS Comfort Flight Deck Personnel

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Flight Deck personnel of the USNS COMFORT watch as the “Floating Hospital” ship docks at Pier 92 in New York Harbor.

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USNS Comfort Flight Deck

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COMFORT flight deck personnel also assisted the city and other government agencies that required helicopter landings and layovers.  In fact, New York officials designated the ship as the secure location for emergency landings for VIP personnel.

USNS Comfort flight deck personnel also assisted the city and other government agencies that required helicopter landings and layovers. In fact, New York officials designated the ship as the secure location for emergency landings for VIP personnel.

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National 9-11 Pentagon Memorial

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Photo of the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. The Pentagon Memorial was created to remember and honor those family members and friends who are no longer with us because of the events of September 11, 2001 at the Pentagon. (Courtesy photo by Kevin Dwyer)

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National 9-11 Pentagon Memorial (with flag)

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Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort

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Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort steams into New York City Sept. 14, 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Preston Keres)

The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort steams into New York City Sept. 14, 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It left from Baltimore harbor the morning of 14 Sept to assist in the medical care of injured survivors, but the mission of the 1,000-bed Comfort soon changed to a humanitarian mission to assist in the medical care of survivors and first responders, dubbed “Operation Noble Eagle.” (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Preston Keres)

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