I joined the Pentagon Renovation Program (PENREN) almost five years ago and began my first career experience with major construction. That experience has been enlightening. I found that the work, and the people within the industry, demolished many of the preconceptions I had about construction.
On September 11, 2001 the Pentagon suffered a terrorist attack that severely damaged part of the building, causing 125 casualties. All of America was shocked by that attack and earlier attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City. Among the first to react at the Pentagon were construction workers at the site. There are many accounts of heroism by these brave individuals who reacted immediately to assist in the on-site response, which saved lives and eased suffering. The rough-and-ready construction community, so accustomed to dealing with and solving complex problems, responded convincingly to the emergency. Within hours of the disaster, equipment began pouring onto our site: backhoes, front-end loaders, cranes, lighting and scaffolding, accompanied by operators.
The scene was pure Americana. Immigrants rubbed shoulders with politicians, government bureaucrats labored with construction workers, and military and civilian personnel pitched in to do whatever they could to help. By the next morning, more than 200 laborers had lined up outside the fence surrounding PENREN, prepared to support rescue operations. The response was overwhelming and inspirational, driven strongly by patriotism and pride.
Within days PENREN had taken the steps necessary to accomplish a quick and effective recovery. We awarded more than $1 billion in contracts before most Americans had time to recover from the shock of the attack. We named the damaged area "The Phoenix Project." We adopted as the project's motto "Let's Roll," which was uttered by Todd Beamer, a passenger on the hijacked jetliner that crashed in Pennsylvania. We began wrestling, up close and personal, with the challenge of recovery and reconstruction.
Just four days after the attack, I promised that we would rebuild the damaged portions of the Pentagon "faster than anyone has a right to expect." Our PENREN team committed to "have people back in the damaged portion of the building, right where the airplane hit, by September 11, 2002." The challenge was a big one, but the industry responded magnificently. Since that time we have reiterated our promise repeatedly.
I am glad to report that we are not only meeting our promise, but will exceed it by a considerable margin. We are now moving personnel back into areas of the Pentagon recovered by The Phoenix Project, and it appears we will successfully relocate 600 people into that area by Sept. 11. This remarkable achievement by the PENRENteam demonstrates what can be achieved through cooperation and teamwork.