JOHN | Memories of 9–11

John Berglund on a New York City fooftop. Berglund is currently the Territorial Emergency/Disaster Services Director for The Salvation Army, headquartered in Long Beach, Calif.

“In September 2001, I was deployed to our Salvation Army headquarters in New York to coordinate staff and volunteers serving at 9–11 under the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tent, where The Salvation Army operated a central commissary.

Throughout The Salvation Army’s nine months on scene, 7,000 officers and 32,000 volunteers or employees assisted in the effort, mostly from the US and Canada.

The Salvation Army provided feeding and hydration services round the clock with the bulk of the fresh meals prepared through a Restaurant Revitalization Program involving 250 or more local businesses. That community partnership kept affected restaurant workers employed while their neighborhoods were closed during the lengthy recovery phase.

In addition to food and hydration services, a myriad of supplies were distributed, emergency social services provided - including financial assistance, and the ‘ministry of presence’ applied at all points of service, even at the New York City Medical Examiners office.

At the time, The Salvation Army responded immediately with its traditional rapid canteen response — a canteen is a mobile kitchen, similar to a parcel delivery truck. Today, non-governmental agencies like The Salvaiton Army are forbidden to provide services without an official request due to safety and security concerns. The Army’s immediate response was followed with long-term recovery and rebuilding projects that continued through 2006.

In my opinion, the September 11th attacks scorched the outlook of all Americans and perhaps intensified the call from the faith-based sector for more of us to get involved.

My lasting impression of Ground Zero is a surreal midnight image of a massive twisted steel sculpture flooded by intense light with flame and smoke smouldering from its depths. It’s the senses that I remember most — the sights, sounds, and smells.

If one is called to do disaster response and recovery work, there is a genuine peace about it. That’s not to say that faith and reason aren’t partners, because in emergency services, they walk in tandem.

Like most, I’m mesmerized by destruction, but it is the human suffering that affects me.

From experience and training, I’ve learned to cope by staying physically fit, mentally balanced, and spiritually centred, and all three areas demand discipline if you are going to stay in the work. In short, human suffering motivates me to continuously improve my skill set, and remain focused on the mission.

I believe that we create evil out of ignorance, so the work inspires me to educate, to share both my life and faith experiences.

In the midst of suffering, I prefer to demonstrate my faith without words. I strive to be in the moment, and address the tasks at hand.

The response work at Ground Zero was an extremely well organized national effort, bringing together the best of all sectors and underscored by unprecedented unity and intense remorse.

Incidents of national significance morph quickly into legend. The Salvation Army will always be noted historically for the service it provided in New York, but more importantly, The Salvation Army will be remembered by the individual lives it touched.”

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The Salvation Army’s World Trade Center Recovery Program provided long-term intensive case management to people who had lost family members, homes, and jobs. The program was the longest running provider of case management services when it concluded in 2006. The Salvation Army remains involved in annual 9/11 memorial services throughout New York City and the surrounding areas.

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