The Army office that Robert Jaworski runs lost more people than any other Pentagon office in the terrorist attack a year ago today. Thirty-four employees died, more than half of the office's 65 employees.
The attack sent the survivors on a journey -- personal and professional -- that continues and, perhaps, will never end. The journey has been marked by trauma, tears and a tireless commitment to honor the work and lives of friends and colleagues who perished or were injured in the attack.
"What we call normal today is not normal like it was before 9/11. . . . It is different. It is changed. It will never go back to the way it was," Jaworski said.
The people who died in the Resource Services Washington office will be among those remembered today at a Pentagon memorial service. They were accountants and budget analysts -- part of the rank and file of the civil service. They kept track of a $3.5 billion budget that funded the Army's Washington area operations and some installations around the world.
Today also is a time to salute federal employees who have put in long hours to maintain and strengthen government programs in the months after terrorists rammed a hijacked jetliner into the nation's military headquarters. At the Pentagon, especially, career civil servants have shown a renewed dedication to public service.
That was certainly the case at Jaworski's office, which had to overcome a devastating attack at a crucial time for its programs. At the end of September, funding for federal programs shifts to a new fiscal year. The office was trying to clean up one budget, launch the next one and nail down the details of a new five-year budget plan.
"There is no slack period in normal situations, and there sure as hell wasn't a slack period for us after 9/11," Jaworski said.
The office had less than 20 days to balance its books and start getting money from the new budget out the door to its Army customers. As they learned of the losses from the attack, former colleagues volunteered to return to help the traumatized survivors meet their deadlines.
For months, 25 volunteers and temporary hires did the work of the 34 who were killed. It has taken almost a year for Jaworski's office to recruit new accountants and analysts and get back to full strength.
"You take for granted when folks leave under normal circumstances that there's a desk, there's a computer, there's records, there's everything. When that plane hit, literally there was nothing," Jaworski said.
He added, "When you have fireproof safes that are little piles of molten metal on the ground, that gives you some idea of the magnitude of the destruction that occurred."
Lea Anderson, a former employee who came back, said the rebuilding process involved "standing up every program again," training new employees and reaching out to the other parts of the Army that rely on the accounting and budget office.
"It's a journey," Anderson said. "We are not at a destination. . . . Sometimes you make some movement and sometimes there is some slippage."
Although the office's day-to-day paperwork was lost, many accounting records had been transferred to backup computer systems.
But those electronic records also were reminders of the fragility of human life. The records often carried the name of the person who entered data or squared an account. Many times, those colleagues were also friends who had joined in shopping expeditions, played cards and gone bowling. They were friends who had shared the joys and sorrows of life outside the workplace.
"There was always someone to give us a hug and some degree of reassurance," said Sharon Weaver, the chief of the program and budget division.
One day, Weaver found an e-mail sent at 9:33 a.m. Sept. 11, perhaps the last official act of a colleague before the plane slammed into the building. "It was a critical fiscal year '02 file that we needed," Weaver said.
"In many respects, I felt like -- and still feel this way -- that the people who were before us are still helping us out by virtue of us having access to their files. . . . They will be helping us for many years to come. We are thankful every day for what they had on the [computer] file servers. They are still with us."
Federal Diary Live Please share your memories and thoughts about Sept. 11 and the aftermath with us at noon today on Federal Diary Live at www.washingtonpost.com.
Stephen Barr's e-mail address is email@example.com.