by Jennifer Scales, Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers Public Affairs Office
NOTE: Friend Walker has been the Site Director at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers Training Delivery Point in Cheltenham, Maryland, since 2019. Prior to this position, he was the Chief of Police at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Houston, Texas. This is his 9/11 memory…
For Lt. Col. Friend Walker, United States Air Force, a pre-Fall Monday in September 2001 was another fast-paced but routine day at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.
As the Director of Operations for the 33rd Field Investigations Squadron (FIS) also known as the Washington Field Office, which was a part of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), Walker and his staff were focused on such things as computer crime investigations, polygraph examinations, counterespionage operations and forensic science, to name a few.
“Our operations also consisted of a technical service division which placed covert listening devices and conducted office sweeps in hostile environments,” reflects Walker. “The surveillance detection team was able to deploy and provide service wherever they were needed and required.”
In addition to their surveillance detection and investigative ops, they provided protective service support to various leaders in the top echelon of the Air Force.
“From the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Secretary of the Air Force, under Secretary of the Air Force, or even the President or Vice-President of the United States and their spouses…it didn’t matter,” Walker said. “We were in place to provide protection and undercover operations whenever it was needed.
As September 11, 2001 dawned for the Walker and the Special Agents of the 33rd FIS, they continued with normal operational tempo until their world and that of those around them exploded.
“Someone had a television on and it was replaying the attack on the first tower,” Walker began. “While I was standing there, scratching my head in total disbelief, I saw the second plane strike the second tower. Then my phone rang with notification of what they thought was a bomb explosion at the Pentagon, but it turned out it was a plane crash. Even to this day, twenty years later, it’s still a shocking event for me.”
Walker immediately went into warp mode. From his operations stance, he assigned forensic science staff and others to the Pentagon site.
“From that moment on, there was no day off until the end of the end of the year,” Walker said. “Long hours became the norm. We grabbed everyone we could who was assigned to AFOSI in the National Capital Region to assist with the work we had to face. This included a U.S. Air Force Special Investigations Academy basic class that just happened to be in training at Andrews.
“This was a prime, though unfortunate opportunity to put all their training into practice,” Walker said. “They were assigned to look for all types of evidence at the Pentagon site.”
Though the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) had overall site control, Walker and his operations team worked in a joint cooperative environment in concert with them establishing two 12-hour shifts, facing unknown dangers, yet continuing to gather evidence and recover personal items.
“The horrific sights of what some of my Agents saw was shared with me on a recurring basis, and it was difficult for me to maintain my composure”. Walker said. “I made it a point to be on hand for each bus departure and arrival to and from the Pentagon. I did my best to prepare them for what they might encounter and I kept an eye out for those who were seeing things that was becoming too much for them.”
Walker reminisced on an Agent who was reportedly having asthmatic issues but was determined to be there every day to make the trek to the Pentagon for support. It got to the point where it was obvious he was having such a problem with breathing that Walker had to order him to stand down. Needless to say, the Agent was none too happy about the order, but Walker believed it saved him some serious health issues for the future.
“Dedication”, Walker said.
Dedication also came in the form of retirees and civilians who wanted to do anything to help with investigating the destruction of the Pentagon.
“Retired agents and military members were willing to come back on active status. There was even an 85-year-old retiree who wanted to do anything to help, even it meant coming to empty our trash cans for us, just to be part of the fight” Walker recalled. “But because of the sensitivity of the area, we could only use our active duty force and federal civilians.”
Personally, Walker and his family were in safe confines. “My daughters were away in college and my wife and I lived on the base. So, I was able to break away for a few hours here and there to go home and see her,” Walker said.
Even though the attack took a toll on the mental spirit of the operations, Walker noted some who were ready to provide aid. “Restaurants, clergy, mental health specialist, psychologists and others were right there to give us sustenance, whether it was physical, emotional, or mental. The gravity of the situation was evident every day.”
Since that day, Walker has had a time to go back to the scene. “The Pentagon Memorial lifts up a lot of people, though a lot of lives were lost,” Walker said. “The who, the what, and the why, of that day still stirs up a lot of discussion. Our world, as we know it, changed for many.”
September 11, 2001.
Etched in memories forever of Friend Walker.
(Courtesy Photo Provided by Friend Walker)
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