Horrible day leads to recruitment boost 10 years later
Part of the tragedy of Sept. 11 is the fact that it was not a tragedy in isolation.
One cannot speak of the pain of that single day without acknowledging the loss caused by the two wars that followed.
Linda Jordan has been helping recruit students to defend the country since 1982, when USC’s Army Reserve Officer Training Corps was in its second year. But on Sept. 11, her job as human resources technician for the Army ROTC became much more difficult.
“I knew we were going to war,” Jordan said.
But she didn’t think America would still be fighting today.
Jordan even remembers the weather that morning: overcast and gloomy, like the day and years to come. She was working at her desk, like she had for 29 years, when she received an unbelievable phone call from a friend.
“I was like, ‘You’re kidding; this can’t be happening,’” Jordan said. “It was horrifying. It was probably one of the most traumatic days in my life, just like everybody else.”
Jordan says she was numb for weeks. Unlike during the 1980s, it was no longer a mere possibility that the students she recruited would be going overseas. It was reality.
“You knew that you were part of preparing to send them there,” Jordan said. “Over the course of four years you get really close to them.”
Lt. Col. Barry Hale was teaching an 8 a.m. Army ROTC class at University of North Carolina-Charlotte when a student came running into the room, yelling at the top of her lungs.
“She was a bit of a blonde, if you know what I mean, and she yelled that a plane had just crashed into a building in downtown Charlotte,” Hale said. “I’m thinking, you are a typical ditz; that couldn’t possibly happen.”
It didn’t happen — at least not in Charlotte. When Hale reached over to turn on the television, he saw what his student was trying to say. And, like Jordan — who he knew while an undergraduate in USC’s Army ROTC program in the ’80s — Hale knew the country was going to war.
Hale is now back at USC’s Army ROTC program, serving as the recruiting operations officer. He said not one of the 15 students in that class dropped out of the program, and all have been deployed at least once to Iraq or Afghanistan.
“All of them have come out of that experience very different people than they were when they left college,” Hale said. “This group was forced to grow up in a way that since the Vietnam War we haven’t had young men and women grow up.”
The days and months following Sept. 11 were tough for both individuals.
In Charlotte, Hale insisted that ROTC members should remain in uniform and be a visible presence on campus, despite some saying it would make them targets. At physical training the next morning, and for several after, there was not a plane in the sky near the Charlotte airport.
In Columbia, Jordan returned to a tense workplace. Later, as a federal employee in the wake of the anthrax scare, she was given masks and gloves to wear when opening mail.
“We went through lots of stuff like that,” Jordan said.
Jordan and Hale know of one graduate of USC’s Army ROTC program who died overseas. Eddie Murphy, an officer described by Hale as “funnier than the comedian Eddie Murphy” and a good soldier in addition, died in a helicopter crash with unknown causes.
Jordan and Hale say Sept. 11 led to a larger ROTC program composed of a different caliber of student. In the aftermath of the attacks, the Army ROTC was pushed to recruit more vigorously and provided more money for attractive scholarships.
“We’re huge now; we used to probably have 60, 70. Now we have 127,” Jordan said. “At USC Columbia alone, the size has doubled since 9/11. Overall we have 270 at all the campuses.”
But, increased recruiting aside, Jordan and Hale said the tragedy itself convinced many to join despite knowing what was ahead.
“When I joined Army ROTC, I joined because I was interested in becoming an army officer, without any thought of having to go to war at all,” Hale said. “These kids are joining knowing that we are at war. That just wasn’t true in the ’80s and ’90s.”
It is for this reason that Hale says he takes issue with Tom Brokaw’s classic label of World War II veterans as the “Greatest Generation.”
“He says that WWII guys are the greatest generation and that everyone else is just a slacker; that’s what he implies,” Hale said. “These kids are doing this knowing that we are at war, and they’re doing it willingly. Nobody has to be here. They’re doing it because they see the need and benefit in serving their country.”