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Remembering 9/11: Former diplomat shares experience at NATO headquarters

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 12:25 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Hank Reed went from the Citadel to the Army, Vietnam, and all over the world before landing in Brussels Belgium at NATO headquarters. That’s where he was on Sept. 11, 2001.

“My secretary said turn on your tv. So, I went in there, we saw the second plane hit the tower. They were replaying the first one and we all, just, what the hell does this mean? Nobody did for the first few hours,” Reed said.

More than 3,000 miles away from Ground Zero, leaders at NATO immediately prepared for the worst.

“We locked everything down. No one could go in or out. We had security on perimeters all around, people didn’t know,” Reed said. And then went to work.

“Inside NATO, there was a big scramble right away to get intelligence,” he said. “Everyone had to get ideas from their own country about what it meant. Is it a nonstate actor or nation state? That’s the first thing.”

Within 24 hours of the terrorist attacks in New York City, history was made in Brussels.

“By the next day, everyone had gotten instructions from their country, this is an article 5 situation,” Reed said. “That’s the first time and only time NATO has declared article 5, so we are going to assume this is an attack on all of NATO and figure out how to respond to this attack. Very emotional, long night of discussion.”

An emotional night, realizing the tragedy that had just occurred.

“You saw what was happening early. People jumping off towers, towers falling, we had friends at Pentagon,” Reed said. “It was hard, but one thing I would say is because we were at NATO and knew we had to do something constructive quickly, we couldn’t just cry over the tragedy, we had to get to work.”

And despite the chaos and heartbreak of those first few days after the attack, Reed says that dark day brought us all together.”

“We were unified. Now, you don’t even know what that is. We were unified quickly after that attack,” Reed said. “A lot of solidarity and mutual sympathy that I thought was a good thing that came out of it right away, and America too, a big upsurge of patriotism.”

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