- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2003


Of the 30 persons on duty in the Pentagon’s Navy Command Center the morning of September 11, 2001, only one — Lt. Kevin Shaeffer — survived the crash of a hijacked airliner.

He is standing out again, now as one of 60 employees of the independent commission studying the events of that day.

His scars testify to the fireball that engulfed his section of the Pentagon. His resolve is a reminder that those most affected by the terrorist attacks hunger for answers.

“He brings a passion for telling the definitive account of what happened,” said John Farmer, a former New Jersey attorney general who is working with Lt. Shaeffer. “He has a million ideas about everything we’re doing and is incredibly focused. He brings sort of a spiritual energy to the work.”

During a grueling recovery that included 18 operations and two near-fatal cardiac arrests, Lt. Shaeffer set a goal of resuming full-time work this September. He willed himself to get well faster, he said, so he could join the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States when it began work early this year.

Now medically retired from the Navy, he hopes the experience will lead him into a career in homeland security and counterterrorism.

“I think every day of all the co-workers who were killed, my close friends and office mates,” said Lt. Shaeffer, 31. “They all had families. Two of them had pregnant wives on September 11. I know in this life that I’m not going to have any answers of why I survived the attack, but what I do know is that I can hopefully make a difference in the future.”

Lt. Shaeffer works on a task force, led by Mr. Farmer, that is investigating the emergency response to the plane crashes at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pa.

The goal, Mr. Farmer said, is to find lessons that will improve the reaction to any future attacks.

The commission has until May to report on topics including intelligence, diplomacy, aviation and the flow of assets to terror organizations. Even as he focuses on his task force, Lt. Shaeffer immerses himself in the full scope of the inquiry.

He watched from the audience, quietly and intently, as the commission held a two-day hearing last month on aviation security. The office in his Virginia home, a few miles from the now-repaired Pentagon, includes a shelf of books he has read, including “Report from Ground Zero,” “Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why” and “Inside Al Qaeda.”

“Being a survivor,” he said, “I’m trying to learn every lesson I can.”

Other commission staffers also suffered personally on September 11. Thomas Kean, appointed commission chairman by President Bush, said he and other commissioners debated whether to hire people with personal ties to September 11.

“To have some of the passion that these people bring to our inquiry is helpful, not harmful,” said Mr. Kean, a former New Jersey governor.

On the morning of the terrorist hijackings, Lt. Shaeffer was at his desk near the center of the Navy Command Center, on the west side of the Pentagon. There, officers monitored events around the globe with the help of giant television screens.

“Just like the millions of people around the world, we were watching the attacks unfold in New York City,” Lt. Shaeffer said.

“Never did I or anyone else in the space have any sense of the impending danger. I mean, I was in the safest office building in the world,” he said.

American Flight 77, seized by hijackers after its takeoff from Washington Dulles International Airport, slammed into the Pentagon shortly before 9:40 a.m. The crash killed 125 in the Pentagon, plus the plane’s 59 passengers and crew and five hijackers.

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