Terror attacks took Proffitt from front door to front line

By Thomas Wilson

   Sept. 11, 2001, began like most other days for Jerry Proffitt.
   A state trooper with the Tennessee Highway Patrol for 28 years, Proffitt was at his Carter County residence on Tuesday morning readying for the night shift.
   "I was at home," recalled Proffitt when he heard an airplane had struck the World Trade Center. "I like to watch CNN a lot so I saw it on the news and I stayed glued to it until I had to go to work."
   Like most Americans, Proffitt said when he heard of the first plane crash he thought it to be a terrible accident.
   "Then we heard the Pentagon had been struck and everybody put it together that we were under an attack of some sort," said Proffitt, reservist with the U.S. Navy since 1984. "I had a thought go through my mind that I might be called to active duty, but this stuff was so unreal ... it was like science fiction."
   When he reported for work that evening, the THP had briefed officers to extra caution and to pay particular attention to any suspicious motorists along Interstate 81.
   "We were given direction to be extra cautious and be leery of people passing through I-81," he said. "We were given BOLOs (be on the lookout) for different vehicles and people."
   The THP also escorted numerous volunteer fire department vehicles traveling to New York in the days after 9-11 to assist with fire prevention and recovery efforts, said Proffitt.
   Five days after Sept. 11, Proffitt received the phone call from Navy command telling him to prepare for activation.
   His activation by the Navy took Proffitt away from his family for nine months. A difficult proposition for a husband and father under any circumstances.
   "My daughter is old enough that she would understand a lot as far as what happened," said Proffitt. "You have to explain to them why daddies have to go to war and mommas have to go to war because we have to fight for our country."
   Once activated, Trooper Proffitt became Chief Petty Officer Proffitt -- a military police officer assigned to provide security at the U.S. Naval base at Pascagoula, Miss.
   He was among the first group of military police officers to report for duty in the Southeast United States after 9-11.
   "Our job was to provide police protection, security and standard safety police work on the naval base itself," he said.
   His orders called for 12 months of active duty service. However, the Navy's decision to downsize reservists permitted him to end his active service requirement three months early.
   "The base was really short-handed in security personnel," Proffitt recalled on arriving at the base. "We started out with about 30 military police officers, which were divided into shifts.
   "We probably increased their security by 300 percent once we got down there."
   The military police maintained both harbor and shore patrols with a perimeter established around the base at all times. No aircraft were allowed over the base and civilian water craft were strictly prohibited from entering the harbor's perimeter.
   No one was allowed on the base without authorization and identification and those who did enter were subject to a thorough search of themselves and their vehicle, said Proffitt.
   The Pascagoula base is also the current home of the USS Cole -- the guided missile destroyer attacked by terrorists while docked in Aden, Yemen, in October 2000.
   The Cole was in the Yemini port for refueling when a small boat laden with explosives was detonated beside the ship, blasting a hole in its side. The attack killed 17 sailors and injured 39 others.
   Following the attack, the Cole was returned to the United States aboard the Norwegian heavy transport ship M/V Blue Marlin owned by Offshore Heavy Transport of Norway. The ship was off-loaded December 2000 from Blue Marlin in a pre-dredged deep-water facility at the shipyard of Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, Ingalls Operations, at Pascagoula.
Proffitt said he met several Cole crew members and toured the ship during his duty at Pascagoula. The remote location of the base created concern about another potential terrorist attack aimed at the Cole or the naval base itself.
   He said military police locked the base down completely on more than one occasion when security alerts were issued from military brass.
   "We had to go on the Cole with guns and physically guard the ship," said Proffitt. "Being a veteran, you have an edge realizing that you know what to do and keep it in control."
   The "edge" Proffitt speaks of comes from his own personal experience in warfare.
   A decorated Vietnam veteran, he served with the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne brigade in-country for six months before he was wounded in combat. He later completed his two-year Army service with the 82nd Airborne.
   Unlike the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, the "War on Terror" military campaign had enormous popular support at home. A fact due in no small part to the terrorist attacks being broadcast across the country almost as they happened, he said.
   "During Vietnam, we were drafted and we volunteered to serve and went over there and were fighting with the enemy directly," said Proffitt. "Now, America has been hit head-on where Americans lost lives on American soil.
   "It makes a lot of difference when the people you are actually fighting for are with you."
   Technically eligible for retirement after recently completing 20 years of military service, Proffitt said he could be reactivated by the Navy.
   "There is no question as to what we're doing or what we are doing it for," he said. "We are fighting for the existence of America itself."