9/11 forever changed naval base
Sept. 11, 2001 brings to mind many sad, remorseful memories for local residents in Charles County. But for Naval Support Facility Indian Head, it was a moment they knew they would be called upon for assistance.
Marc Siedband was the commanding officer of of the base from 2000-2003.
In 2001, the base was called the Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Division and the one located at Stump Neck Annex was the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division. In 2013, both commands merged to form the Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head EOD Technology Division.
Siedband said when he first got the news about the 9/11 attacks, he was out doing inspections for a weekly safety report.
“We were told to stop doing the
inspection and go back to headquarters,” Siedband said. “While watching the news we realized what had happened and there was speculation that it was a terrorist attack, so we knew what was coming next.”
Siedband said all on base were in a state of shock.
“We kept informed of what was going on and we waited for direction from the naval command,” Siedband said. “But everything on the base was handled very professionally. We took immediate action to tighten up security, we took some steps on our own to double the guards at the gate and increase the patrols on the base waterfront because Indian Head is a peninsula, so it’s very vulnerable to people coming in by water. We slowed down access to the base, but everybody with an ID card was able to get on the base. People still came to work and we worked our way through it.”
Siedband led the NSF Indian Head facility of 1,750 employees tasked with research, development, testing, manufacturing and in-service support of energetic materials and related components to support U.S. and allied war-fighters.
“After 9/11, the naval base was tasked with the accelerated development and production times to deliver thermobaric weapons [cave-buster bombs] for use in Operation Enduring Freedom, reducing a twoyear process to 67 days,” Siedband said.
He said the level of engagement and initiative from his team was firstclass, and one of the main reasons he loved working at NSF Indian Head.
“While working in Indian Head you are involved in some dangerous things and producing things designed to be destructive,” Siedband said. “As a result, what you do carries over to the person sitting next to you because their life is in your hands. I think we responded exceptionally well and quickly to both the security demands that were made on us and the responsiveness to create what the military needed in very short order.”
Dennis Chappell, director of CAD/PAD joint program office at the base from 19642003, said he and other staff on base at the time watched the 9/11 attacks on a television located in a conference room.
“We said ‘Oh my God, this is not good,’” Chappell said. “We knew that we would be called upon to support a war effort that would be coming up after that and we were correct. The base told everyone to go home and the base closed down for a day. The impact on the joint program office was mainly logistic support to support the upcoming war fighter because we supplied a lot of explosive items that were used by the various [military branches].”
According to Chappell, the CAD/PAD joint office program focused on creating systems for ejecting bombs, missiles and other weapons. He said after 9/11, due to heightened security measures, there was a wall built between the town and the base.
“Not an actual wall, but there was an invisible wall that divided the base and the community,” Chappell said.
“Everything changed after 9/11, especially the ease of coming and going onto the base,” said Amy O’Donnell, who heads up the Underwater and Countermeasures Division. “There were waves of realization on the base; realizing the country was under attack and realizing how this affected a community of people. The open access that I loved with the county and the town had been destroyed. The town and county have always been supportive of the base, and I don’t know if we’ll ever be in a place where we can just open up the gates again.”