‘Facing Stigma’ with Curt Nutbrown

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“I can remember the morning of September 11th in DC because it was beautiful out and I was thinking of taking the day off to do yard work; however, I was set to brief some of the senior leadership at the Pentagon and needed to go in. We had yet to hear of anything that was going on in New York City. The operations team knew about it, but a lot of people were just going about their regular day and had no clue what was happening. We were sitting in a small conference room on the perimeter of the Pentagon just outside the exterior wall when all of a sudden the room just exploded and there was this deafening noise that would almost pop your ear drums. A fireball burst through the room that was about five feet in the air and the ceiling started coming down around us. As soon as the fireball passed through a ton of black smoke started trickling in. I thought it was a maintenance or gas line explosion because there had been a lot of renovations on that side of the Pentagon. We all started scrambling looking for a way out. We couldn’t really see because of all the smoke but we could still communicate. Once the people on the other side of the room said the door was blocked and we wouldn’t be able to get out that way, I looked to get out of the door on my side of the room.

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We crawled along and probably every 50 feet or so we had to lay down just to get fresher air. My boss was with me and stayed alongside my hip the entire time. However, when I got to the far wall I reached out behind me and he wasn’t there. I could hear the life being sucked out of the people across the room, but there was no way of getting to them because you couldn’t pinpoint them. Two Army Colonels came by the door and urged me to leave because the building could collapse at any point. By the time I got out to the Pentagon parking lot they had already set up an emergency aide station. To my surprise, I found my boss there as he had been able to get out of an alternate exit after throwing a Hewlett Packard printer out the window and climbing out. Actually nine out of twelve of us survived from the meeting room we had originally been in that day. The other three people we lost died after forcing their way out of the opposite room door and going into the E ring which was burning due to the impact from the plane. If we had all gone out that door originally, we probably wouldn’t have made it out alive. We lost about 189 people that day in the Pentagon. We were in the parking lot at the aide station when a rumor started going around that there was another plane coming toward DC. With this news all of a sudden there were 20,000 people that just start taking off away from the Pentagon and storming across the road to get to a safe place.

We later found out the other jet that went down in Pennslyvania was the other flight intended for DC. I ended up staying at the Pentagon for two more years on the Army staff, before I decided to retire and go work for Lockheed Martin once the war started. I started getting sick and by 2008 I almost died because of neurosarcoidosis, which compromises your immune system and is actually the number one killer of those who had been in the rubble piles of 9/11. It builds lesions in your lungs and brain from when you inhaled all of the toxic air from that environment. Once that happened it all kind of came to a head. I fought for my life for a couple of years and it wasn’t just physical, it was mental. I’ve had problems on and off and I think all of them are really centered around 9/11. This past summer I actually went back in for help after reaching out to Headstrong. Once I was paired with my therapist, I started to see her every week for a few months until we got to the point where now our sessions are a lot less frequent. She’s really helped to put a lot of these issues at ease for me and I’ve been able to really build up a lot of coping mechanisms. When you can talk to somebody else about your experiences outside of a significant other, it really helps to relieve the burden. She’s able to put a counselor’s spin on it and offer alternative solutions that I find really helpful. It’s nice to know that somebody is listening and the fact that somebody else cares is huge.”

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Healing the hidden wounds of war

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