My Story of 11 September 2001

I just posted this comment on The Survival Podcast.  I thought you would like to read it, too.


I’m a bit behind in listening to the podcast so I’m a little late in posting this reply.  Here is what I was doing at the time the planes hit the World Trade Center.  While it’s just the minor efforts of an office worker (more direct action came later), it was significant for me.

I was an Army enlisted guy working at a joint operations unit at an air base in Georgia.  I had just finished my morning run, showered, and had put on my usual work uniform (at the time, it was the class B uniform).  I was walking through the little cubicle farm when I saw two Air Force officers hanging and chatting around the television we had in the center of our area.  They didn’t seem tense at the time, just interested in what was happening.

Out of curiosity, I strolled over to them and listened in on their conversation while glancing occasionally at the TV.  The officers were talking as if it had been an accident so there wasn’t much concern.  Only minutes later, we saw the second plane hit.  We all were startled by this, obviously.  We all realized the impact of this without a word passing between us.  In fact, I had not said a word at this point.

Still silent, I sighed and walked away from the television as the officers remained fixed to its screen.  I walked over to the entrance to our emergency operations center (EOC).  All of the computer work stations s had been disassembled for maintenance the day before and the components were still piled on the floor (the computers were still intact, but they were not connected to the other peripheries).  I knew we were going to need those computers very soon.  The EOC was going to be activated.

Pardon me.  I had to step away from the computer for a moment.  I had lit a cigar (yes, at eight thirty in the morning) as a way to try settling myself down in order to write this narrative.  It only partially helped.  Memories of the day and events afterward (the faces of friends I lost later among other things) came flooding back and I broke out into major sweats and nausea.  I had to put out the cigar, step away, and sit in front of a fan for a while.  Eventually, I had to pray to the porcelain god.  I’ll continue now.

Still clutching my gym bag, I went back to the shower room and changed back into my sweaty gym clothes.  They would be more appropriate for the work I was about to do.  I then returned to the EOC, turned on one of its televisions (it was already on a news channel; I think it was CNN. People were jumping from the windows of the Trade Center at the time), and began reassembling workstations.

The Pentagon was struck as I worked.  A thought flashed in my mind but did not yet have enough substance to really stick.  I had friends working there and couldn’t really think straight at the time.  I wondered if they were okay.

I had finished about half of the stations when I had to stop and stare fixedly at the TV.  The first tower had started to collapse.  I remember standing in the middle of the room, frozen stiff, as I watched it fall.  “This is a Clancy novel,” I thought to myself, remembering the events from ‘Debt of Honor’ which I had read years ago.  “Can this really be happening?”  Only minutes later, reports of the fourth plane crashing in Pennsylvania came onscreen.  I recovered from my paralysis, hung my head, and continued working.

I  was almost through with one workstation and had two stations remaining when my boss, an Army lieutenant colonel, and his non-commissioned officer in charge, an Army master sergeant, came into the EOC.  We all watched quietly as the second tower fell.  After we caught our breaths, the colonel said there was some classified message traffic which needed to be picked up and asked if I would drive to Atlanta to receive it (my security clearance was high enough to do so at the time).  I recall glancing at my unfinished task and saying I would do it.  The sergeant said he would finish reassembling the computers for me.  I nodded and left the EOC.

I grabbed my bag from my desk and changed one more time.  I picked up the key to our government car and stepped outside.  The entire base had changed in only two hours.  The base had been quite lax during the two years I had worked there.  You could almost say it was a civilian complex.  There had been civilian security at the gates – more of a formality, really – and everything had been laid back.  As I exited the building into the morning sunlight, I saw Air Force security police (SP) patrolling the base’s roads in HMWWVs with light machine guns mounted on them.  The main gate was now manned by the SPs, as well.  In a moment of dark humor, I thought, “The Air Force has remembered that it is part of the military again.”

I got into the car and drove away.  Of course, I had the radio tuned to a news station as I traveled.  I had been going for about ten minutes when the station gave an update on the day’s event and then, contrary to its usual format, began to play a song.  This song, which I had heard before, but in which I had never placed a great deal of significance, was ‘One Voice’ by Billy Gilman, a child country singer.  I think he was about twelve at the time.  Listening to the boy’s voice I as I drove, I finally felt the crushing weight of the day so far.  My eyes welled up and tears began to flow.  I don’t even remember the rest of the drive to my destination.

The remainder of the day was a blur.  I cannot recall much more than picking up the message traffic and eventually making my way back to the EOC.  I don’t think I even stopped for lunch.  Being Atlanta, the return trip took a significant amount of time.  The workday would actually end minutes after I delivered the messages to my boss.  I returned to my residence (at the time, a rented bedroom a few miles away) in a daze.  After firing off a quick email to my friend at the Pentagon (he turned out to be fine but I did learn his father had spent hours digging through rubble looking for his wife…who also turned out to be unharmed), I spent the rest of the evening staring at my television without really comprehending what I saw and heard until much later.

The next day as I entered the front gate on the way back to work, I remember being met by half a dozen SPs and seeing a machine gun nest about twenty meters from the gate.  The camouflage netting obscured what I knew was behind it.  I was sure there was an alert SP behind an M-60 or M-249 with his sights centered on my face.  Obviously, all of my movements were slow and deliberate so as not to give him a reason to pull the trigger.

That was my day.  Two weeks later, I was transferred to mechanized infantry battalion and eventually to my original unit, an armor battalion.  We mobilized in 2004 and went to Iraq for a year.  I then volunteered for another immediate deployment with a long-range surveillance company.  Memories from those trips overseas will remain with me forever.  I did nothing truly significant myself, but I know several great men who did…some of whom never returned.  It was a privilege to serve with them and, on August 15th of every year (the day four of them died), I lift a glass in their honor.

To the TSP community, I hope there is some meaning which you can take form this tale which will be of some small benefit to you.  Thank you, Jack, for this opportunity to tell this simple story.


Podcast Episode 0034 – The IRR as a Semi-Retirement Option

Individual Ready Reserve (U.S. Air Force)
Individual Ready Reserve (U.S. Army Human Resources Command)
Individual Ready Reserve (U.S. Army Reserve)
Individual Ready Reserve (U.S. Coast Guard)
Individual Ready Reserve (U.S.M.C.)
Individual Ready Reserve (U.S. Navy)
Drilling Individual Mobilization Augmentee (DIMA) Handbook (Army)
Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) Handbook (Army)
U.S. Coast Guard IRR Member Guide

Uniformed Services ID Card


YouTube Episode 0036 – The IRR as a Semi-Retirement Option

Individual Ready Reserve (U.S. Air Force)
Individual Ready Reserve (U.S. Army Human Resources Command)
Individual Ready Reserve (U.S. Army Reserve)
Individual Ready Reserve (U.S. Coast Guard)
Individual Ready Reserve (U.S.M.C.)
Individual Ready Reserve (U.S. Navy)
Drilling Individual Mobilization Augmentee (DIMA) Handbook (Army)
Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) Handbook (Army)
U.S. Coast Guard IRR Member Guide

Uniformed Services ID Card


Should I Pay for SBP or Buy a Life Insurance Policy?

I run into a lot of people who balk at the price of the Survivor Benefit Plan (and the reserve component version, as well).  They typically respond with a gruff “I don’t want to pay that” statement and then claim they’ll just buy a life insurance policy instead.


Some people also say they don’t want their pay “reduced” in order to cover their spouse.  I have a counter to that.  When you receive your leave and earnings statement and see a deduction for Servicemembers Group Life Insurance or an allotment for a car payment, is your pay being reduced or are you paying for a product or service?  The answer, naturally, is you’re paying for a service / product.


Sure, the reserve component survivor benefit plan can equal as much as 3.5% of retired pay and its active component version can be as high as 6.5% (reservists pay both premiums when they receive retired pay. The rules are slightly different for active duty retirees).  Ten percent of your money coming out of your monthly payment can seem like a lot and life insurance can be a tempting alternative.  Is it the best idea, though?


I have found it best to compare life insurance to the SBP and see how things pan out.  I am going to do this for you in this article.  For this comparison, I am going to use the example of a master sergeant (or pay grade E-8, for those of you who are not Army) who has 5,000 retirement points.


This individual would have, roughly, a $2,000 per month retirement payment.  His SBP premium for a spouse (who is three years younger than he is) would be around $200.  That sounds like a lot, yes, but let’s take a closer look at the numbers.  I am including a copy of my calculations in the resources section so you can follow along, if you like.


Let’s assume this person has a $250,000 life insurance policy and dies this year at the age of fifty-four.  For a fair comparison, we’ll also assume the widow only draws from the payout the same amount of money she would get in survivor benefits (she would likely need more to sustain herself).  If the widow were to take from that policy only the amount she would receive from the SBP ($1,100 per month which is 55% of the service member’s retirement), she would run out of money at the age of seventy-one.  It is possible to outlive a life insurance policy but you cannot outlive the survivor benefit plan.


The actuaries at the Department of Defense (read bean-counters) estimate the widow would live until the age of eighty-five.  This means she would have fourteen years without any money from the life insurance policy (we won’t count other streams of income).  If the husband’s intent had been to provide enough money for her to live at least at a subsistence level (again without considering other income), he has fallen short.  My calculator estimates he would need over $550,000 in life insurance in order to allow her to survive until eighty-five.  If he wanted her to have twice as much money each month ($2,200), he would need over $1.1 million.


This is a lot of money no matter who you ask.  Now let’s take the cost of life insurance into account.  Not only that, let’s take the husband’s age into account.  A fifty-seven year old man who is seeking $550,000 in life insurance is going to pay a hefty premium for that much coverage even if he is in good health and doesn’t smoke.  Now imagine what it could be if he wanted twice that much insurance.


I had a man who was wanting to do just this.  I told him he would face a much higher premium than the SBP premium for equivalent life insurance.  He decided to check anyway (and I applaud him for it).  He wanted $800,000 in coverage and went to one of many life insurances websites for a quote.  The best offer he was able to get as a premium was $788 per month.  The SBP amount was less than half of that.  He decided to do what I suggested which was in that case to keep the amount of life insurance he currently had and take the SBP coverage.  He chose to do just that.


My suggestion to that person is exactly what I typically recommend to people who bring up the life insurance option.  Supplement the SBP, I say, but don’t refuse it.  Most people accept my advice, thankfully.


Now let’s talk about a few other items of interest regarding the survivor benefit plan.  First, the premiums you pay only come out of your retired pay.  You would pay for a life insurance policy as soon as you agree to take out the policy whether you’re receiving retirement or not.  Next, the premiums are not taxed.  They come out before taxes on your pay are computed (try that with a life insurance policy).  Lastly, the survivor annuity is indexed for inflation every year; a life insurance policy stays the same no matter how much time passes.


That’s enough of my ranting for one day.  I hope this article has provided some information worthy of your consideration.  If you have any questions or comments, please post them below.  I always like knowing what others are thinking.


Thanks for joining me today and, of course, thank you for your service.




Retired Pay Estimate with Life Insurance Comparison

Podcast Episode 0033 – Should I Pay for SBP or Buy a Life Insurance Policy?

Retired Pay Estimate with Life Insurance Comparison

YouTube Episode 0035 – Should I Pay for SBP or Buy a Life Insurance Policy?

Retired Pay Estimate with Life Insurance Comparison

What is an Anniversary (or Retirement) Year?

Let me tell you a story about an event that occurred two weeks ago.  It will lead into a discussion of a topic that is good to know for all reservists.  Please bear with me as I describe the situation (because it’s a bit lengthy) and I will get the point after I finish telling the tale.


This story began with an email from a person at National Guard Bureau who had stumbled upon my website.  This person, whom I will call Chief J, sent a message Friday morning which I’ll paste below:




You probably mentioned this to me already – but, in case you didn’t

– ran across by DJ – just wanted to say I love it!

Thinking this is probably you. 🙂


Well, naturally, since I like to be honest (and can rarely resist a little flattery), admitted:


I confess. Yes, it’s me. 🙂


Thank you very much.


Out of curiosity (since it’s a little nothing of a site), how did you find it?


Her response was this.


I was googling and researching a question someone posed to me – 🙂


I must admit it’s nice that the site is starting to pop up in web searches.  I replied with:


I hope you found the answer. Otherwise, I might have a topic for my next post. 🙂


Within mere minutes, I received this:


Don’t know if you have time to assist on this but we are working on an IG complaint and it is regarding establishing anniversary year ending dates –

We know the effective date prior to 1 Oct 95 is established by date entered RC  – After 1 Oct 95 it is established by date entered RC or AC.


We realize that the parenting guidance is DODI (Department of Defense Instruction) 1215.07.  We cannot find this in the DODI – and cannot find anything in writing anywhere – Army, Navy, Marines, you name it, nothing.  Do you by chance know?


I said I had experienced a similar problem with an Air National Guard member and added:


I have attached the letter from JAG along with excerpts from AR 140-185, DODI 1215.07, and NGR 680-2 (which gives timeframes for the different rules).  I think you will find this useful.


Let me know if this answers your question, please.  If not, I will do some more digging for you.


After very little time, I received a forwarded message from Chief J. which included information about the person in question.  I’ll call him Chief M.  Chief J. said she had one opinion on when the person’s anniversary (or retirement) year should begin and the people who ran the National Guard’s retirement points program had another opinion.


Anyway, this guy had been a Naval Academy cadet from 1977 to 1981 and commissioned into the Active Navy in 1981.  In 1991, he went into the Navy Reserve and remained there for ten years.  In 2008, he joined the Virginia National Guard.


NGB’s (National Guard Bureau’s) RPAM (Retirement Points Accounting Management) section said his year began when he joined the Navy Reserve.  Chief J. thought it should begin when he joined the Active Navy.  She was hoping I could break the tie and provide some useful advice to the debate.


I did a little digging into the rules for anniversary years and found, first of all, there were a LOT of them.  Secondly, I found one which fit perfectly with his situation.  Just to be sure of what I was thinking, I also built his service history in my points database and played around with it a bit.  Despite one little glitch, everything about my theory worked out.


I then responded:


Just to see things from all angles, I rebuilt Cheif M’s points history in my database so I could play with the codes, years, etc.  I have attached the points Worksheets for your reference.


There are a lot of factors to consider.  I’m ultimately going to have to select the ONE rule that makes the most sense.  In this case, I’m going to have to side with you on this one and say 05/26.


Here is my reasoning for this decision.


NGR 680-2, para 2-1 b (7) states:


Who was in a Service Academy and:

(a) Had no prior service and was appointed as a commissioned officer from a Service Academy, the anniversary year is the date of appointment.”


This is clearly the situation for this individual.  However, the NGR has a confusing term which can easily lead to misinterpretation.  See below.


Para 2-1 b (9) Exceptions. If an individual was:

(a) Inducted, and after that service was assigned to a reserve component before 1 January 1969, the anniversary year is the date assigned to a reserve component in an active status.

(b) Inducted and remained on active duty and later assigned to a reserve component on or after 1 January 1969, the anniversary year is the date inducted.


In this case, inducted is being used as a synonym for drafted.  We even have a … code for that status, A9 (Draftee in any component after 1 Jan 69, or before 1 Jan 69 and entering a reserve component after that date with no break in service).  If the A4 (code for Active Navy) were changed to A9, the AYE would adjust to 05/26 on its own (and he would have twenty qualifying years as a result).


However, this person was not draftee; he was an academy cadet.  I believe RPAM is a great tool whose business rules rarely go wrong (except for computing reduced retirement age). I also believe it is not taking the source of Chief M’s commission into account and subsequently not applying the rules of NGB 680-2.


…Thank you for letting me add my thoughts to this debate.  I hope all of this made sense.  Please let me know if you have any other questions.


This satisfied Chief J. and appeared to settle the matter.  Chief M. should have a retirement year starting in May rather than July as NGB had argued.  This may seem like a trivial matter on its face but the decision actually affected whether Chief M. was eligible for a twenty-year letter now or after another year of service.


Now, let’s get to the “so what?” factor.  What is an anniversary year and why does the date it starts / ends matter to a reservist?


An anniversary year (as it’s called in the National Guard but called a retirement year in the other reserve components) is the time during which a service member accrues retirement points.  As I’ve said in other articles, an anniversary year is not a calendar or fiscal year; it is unique to every service member.


If an anniversary year begins at one point rather than another, the points earned during that timeframe may not be sufficient to qualify as a satisfactory year of service for retirement purposes.  Remember that a satisfactory year is one with at least fifty retirement points in it.


In the case of Chief M. this was exactly the case. The distribution of points was different enough that one start date for his retirement year resulted in one year not qualifying for retirement accounting.  The decision I suggested would cause that “bad” year to suddenly become a “good” year.


Since I said that everyone’s anniversary year is different, this means that the full-time staff at a reservist’s unit cannot make blanket statements (such as saying they will still have a “good year” if they miss a few weekend assemblies or if they miss annual training).  The effect of missing duty days may have a negative effect on one service member but not affect another person.  Obviously, it also helps if the member is aware of the dates of his anniversary year so he can know whether the advice he receives from a full-timer is accurate.


For those of you who may be interested in all of the rules for anniversary years I mentioned above, I will include an excerpt from the National Guard regulation which governs retirement points accountability.  These rules are mirrored in the regulations for the other reserve components, as well.  This is simply the one which I can access the easiest.


I hope this article has provided a worthwhile tidbit of knowledge for you and can help you in further understanding how to make the most of your service.  Whether it does or not, I welcome any comments or questions you may have.


Thanks for being part of this audience and for joining me this week.  Of course, I also thank you for your service.  Have a great day and be sure to come back next week.





Excerpt from NGR 680-2
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