FORT CARSON, CO, UNITED STATES
Story by Spc. Collin MacKown
FORT CARSON, Colo. – He was barely awake as he stood on the top level of the garage waiting for his coworkers to trickle in as the hour neared 7 a.m. Peering into the distance, he took in the same view he saw every morning, the city of New York. He was awaiting a routine day of working as mall security, but he had no idea this day would be anything but routine. He and his coworkers divided up the daily security routes in the mall and began their routine checks on trucks. As he glanced up from his work, something peculiar caught his attention. He watched in total bewilderment as an airplane soared in the direction of a building. Then, he stood in terror as it hit the first of the twin towers. Within mere seconds, the tower burst into flames, smoke billowed into the sky, completely obscured from view.
At only 19 years old, Benjamin DeJesus, a sergeant first class in the United States Army, serving as an Army culinary specialist assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, was witness to the tragedy of September 11, 2001. During this time he was a part of the Army reserves, assigned to the 716th Quartermaster Company, Jersey City, New Jersey.
“We all convinced ourselves the first plane hitting was an accident,” said DeJesus. “Something must have gone wrong; mechanics, anything, we didn’t want to believe it. Shortly after the first attack, we all watched just shell-shocked as the second aircraft came into view, flying straight into the second tower. This confirmed it in fact was not an accident, but an attack on us, on our country.”
DeJesus and his coworkers immediately grabbed a phone and began dialing the number of their control center, still trying to comprehend what was happening. According to DeJesus, their supervisor instructed all security to be pulled back to the meeting checkpoint, and the mall didn’t open at all that day. He watched as the mall transformed from what used to be a place filled with smiling faces to a triage center meant to help all those affected by the attack. Getting to work at 6 a.m. DeJesus and his coworkers were there until 5 a.m. September 12, helping in any way they could.
“We were bringing people from the ferry over to the mall for help and support,” said DeJesus. “Trying to make sure they were okay and attempting to get them to communicate with their families back at home.”
DeJesus watched as people surrounded him, covered in concrete dust which was swarming the air, falling from the sky as if it was raining. He looked around, eyes wide, taking in the three floors of the mall which were completely packed with people who all needed help. He and his coworkers began assisting the police and fire department with clearing roads, helping them make a path for emergency transportation. This was when he started feeling tremors, the ground rumbling around him, and smoke completely encompassing the air. He knew at that moment the tower had fallen.
“Everybody was just very confused, shocked, not knowing anything,” said DeJesus. “Nobody knew what was really going on, what really happened, why it was happening – just speechless, overwhelmed.”
After the news announced it was a terrorist attack, the meaning of the previous day’s events entirely changed for him.
“It was a part of my duty, with being in the reserves,” said DeJesus. “No matter how shocked I was, I had a job to do that day. My job was to get people to safety, get people to medical assistance and help anyone who needed it.”
Nyree Smalls, a private first class, is an Army culinary specialist assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, has had the opportunity to work under the leadership and guidance of DeJesus during his time at Fort Carson. He has experienced first hand the impeccable character of DeJesus that was brought upon by his moments of heroism on that fateful day.
“Sergeant DeJesus has been a great leader,” said Smalls. “He cares a lot about his Soldiers and the unit, always putting us first. He’s always offering his help and wisdom, making sure I’m alright everyday.”
Smalls is nineteen, and was not yet born when the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, struck. From what he’s heard from DeJesus and seen in the news he concludes the tragedy is an event which brought war and terror upon the U.S. for decades.
“From hearing stories about September 11 from sergeant DeJesus, I think that it definitely has something to do with his leadership now,” said Smalls. “Going through all that made him stronger; he’s upfront about everything, strict, it’s everything I like in a leader.”
DeJesus went through a life altering, eye-opening experience that left an indelible mark on his life and, without second thought, helped in any way he could, embodying a Soldier’s responsibility to selflessly serve.
“Watching people scared, getting hurt and tears streaming down their faces, it’s unbelievable. I’ll never experience anything like it again,” said DeJesus. “But in the midst of it all is when you get a rush of adrenaline, you do your job, and that’s when you realize that you’re there and it’s your duty to help.”