A Practical Way to Remember the Fallen from September 11th: Operate the USS Arlington and Prepare to Engage in Harms Way


2014-11-07 By Robbin Laird

Visiting the USS Arlington for someone who lived in Arlington on September 11, 2001 is a very poignant event.

And it is especially so for someone like me who was in the Pentagon that day.

I went into my meeting.

Suddenly, I felt the building rock.

It felt like an accident in the ground floor area of the Pentagon.

When buses used to come into the Pentagon directly underneath, such a crash might be possible.

But, of course, I remembered that buses were no longer coming inside.

We went outside to see what was happening.

People were running around the Pentagon, and I exited the main door to the parking lot.

General Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld passed me going back into the building.

I got into my car to drive home to our house which is close to the Pentagon.

We were stopped on Interstate 395 by the police as fire trucks and related equipment rushed to the Pentagon.

As I sat in my car, I looked over to see the plane fitted inside the Pentagon.

Unfortunately, I did not have a camera with me, for much more of the plane survived the initial impact than was later reported.

When I got home, I found my wife and children more than upset by developments.

It turns out that the plane had flown low over our house on the way to strike the Pentagon.

And my little girl, who was 3 at the time, kept talking about the plane which “almost hit me.”

Of course, for this generation of Arlington children, this would be a traumatic event they would never forget.

When Ed Timperlake and I came to the christening of the USS Arlington, we were struck by how many relatives of those who had died in the Pentagon were in attendance.

The SLD team had a chance to meet a man and his wife who symbolized the American experience. 

He was a Vietnam combat veteran, with eight close friends whose names are forever on The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Tragically he and his wife were present to honor lost family members including two very young children when they were aboard the fatal American Airlines jet. 

Seeing such a man brought home the loss, which Americans had that day. 

Indeed, this man symbolized for us the need and importance of American global engagement to reduce threats to the American homeland and to the continued American engagement to work with friends and allies to contain the terrorist challenge.

We were shocked to find no major Washington media in attendance. 

Ed contacted the ombudsman of the Washington Post and pursued the issue finally getting some recognition that they should have done a better job!

And especially because of the age of my third daughter, I was quite moved by a young girl sitting on her father’s lap in the Navy band and shot this picture:


This picture symbolized for me the generations of Americans willing to serve their country and to remember what is really all about – protecting the freedom of this country and its citizens.

During my visit to the USS Arlington, I had the privilege to meet a young sailor who clearly represents this tradition.

During my visit to the Arlington, I had the chance to talk with Boatswain’s mate — Anthony Richardson — of the Arlington, 

According to Wikipedia, a boatswain’s mate is as follows:

The United States Navy occupational rating of boatswain’s mate (abbreviated as BM) is a designation given by the Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS) to enlisted members who are rated or “striking” for the rating as a deck seaman.

The colloquial form of address for a boatswain’s mate is ‘Boats’.

Boatswain's mate of the Arlington, Anthony Richardson. Credit Photo: Second Line of Defense
Boatswain’s mate of the Arlington, Anthony Richardson. Credit Photo: Second Line of Defense

The rating of Boatswain’s Mate dates from the American Revolutionary War and is one of the oldest U.S. Navy rates still in continuous existence.

Boatswain’s mates train, direct, and supervise personnel in ship’s maintenance duties in all activities relating to marlinspike, deck, boat seamanship, painting, upkeep of ship’s external structure, rigging, deck equipment, and boats.

Boatswain’s mates take charge of working parties; perform seamanship tasks; act as petty officer-in-charge of picketboats, self-propelled barges, tugs, and other yard and district craft. 

They serve in, or take charge of damage control parties. 

BMs also operate and maintain equipment used in loading and unloading cargo, ammunition, fuel, and general stores.

BMs take charge of and supervise UNREP (Underway Replenishment) procedures and equipment.

They are integral to ship’s navigation and serve as ship’s Helmsman and the ship’s Lee Helmsman.

In addition they also serve as RHIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) coxswains.

After explaining to a landlubber like me what he did aboard the ship, he indicated that this was his first ship, and had been aboard for two years.

But with enthusiasm he indicated that he has been able to extend his time aboard the ship as it moved into its first deployment phase of operation.

It was clear that the esprit de corps of the ship crew was important to Anderson in his desire to continue to serve on this ship.

I asked him why he was so dedicated to his service aboard this ship other than his enthusiasm to work with a new crew on a new ship:

“We are doing our missions every day in memory of what happened on September 11th.  It is that simple. That is the greatest thing.”

I think I can speak for many, and to take my hat off to the crew, troops and leadership of the USS Arlington and thank them for their service.