Patriot Day: September 11th Forever Changed Loudoun County

Flags of Valor September 11th

It was a Tuesday morning that started like any other and ended as one the world would never forget. September 11th, 2001, was a generation ago, a lifetime ago–but for many, also a watershed moment that changed lives.

Here are a handful of Loudoun’s countless stories of change on September 11th, 2001:

Christopher Newton and Dong Chul Lee

Christopher Newton 9/11Christopher Newton and Dong Chul Lee were two Loudoun residents, fathers and professionals, who left on business trips from Washington-Dulles International Airport. Aboard Flight 77, bound for LAX, they were among the 59 fatalities when the American Airlines flight diverted and hit the Pentagon.

According to his National September 11th Pentagon Memorial bio, Newton had recently relocated his family from Southern California. He was the president and CEO of Work|Life Benefits, and was in the process of relocating the company’s headquarters to Northern Virginia, to be closer to key customers and the Paris-based corporate parent, Accor.

This move would also allow him to spend more time with his family – attend school functions, coach his son’s little league team or just have a quiet dinner at home with his wife and children.

Dong Chul Lee 9/11“D.C.” Lee, as he was known to his friends and family, immigrated to the U.S. in 1968, serving in the U.S. Air Force and National Security Agency, before settling with his family in the River Creek community in Leesburg. He was remembered in his bio as a loving husband to his wife, Jungmi, and proud father of his three children, Daniel, Melissa and Cynthia.

On September 11th, Lee was working as a program manager in government information and communication systems in the Space and Communications Group for Boeing.

In 2005, when the Loudoun County Public School District opened a new elementary school in Ashburn, Newton and Lee became the school’s namesake. Every year on September 11th, the 600 faculty and students at Newton-Lee Elementary remember the men whose portraits hang in their lobby.

“I can’t tell you how important it is for me to have these men here in our front lobby guiding the work that we do,” Principal Shawn Lyons told WJLA. “We are growing the leaders of tomorrow right here today so they need to know where we come from. They need to know how America pulled together in the aftermath of September 11th and how we, as a community, came together.”

Gary Miller

One way that the community came together was in rescue and cleanup efforts that played out in New York City and Washington, D.C. Located just 22 miles from the Pentagon, Loudoun Fire and Rescue joined the rescue and cleanup efforts in the hours after the attack.

Air traffic controllers at the Federal Aviation Administration Route Control Center in Leesburg coordinated the grounding of flights across the U.S.

Gary Miller Pro-Type IndustriesGary Miller, now a Production Manager at Pro-Type Industries in Sterling, was a small business owner at the time. Feeling helpless in the hours after the attack, he found another way to give back and help heal the community.

“After 9/11, my son and I had a T-shirt press and we were sitting around like everybody else in the world saying, ‘How can we help? We can’t all run up to Ground Zero and grab a shovel.'” he recalled. “I got this brilliant idea to make a design and print them on shirts. Whatever we make, we’ll donate to the Red Cross.

“I bought 300 white shirts to print and we started printing them and listening to WMZQ on the radio. They had all these stories of people calling in to say how they were helping and so I called in at 7 in the morning, and explained what we were doing. I gave them our phone number and our fax number and before I could get off the phone, I had four lines flashing and the fax machine going crazy with orders.”

Before Miller and his son could print a single shirt, he already had 400 orders, forcing him to find more shirt suppliers. People started just showing up to his shop and asking if they could help, creating an ad hoc assembly line of T-shirt printers, folders and packers.

“I don’t even know these people and they’re in my shop folding shirts and taking orders,” he said with a smile. “The profit margin on each shirt was about $5, and we ended up sending $20,000 to the Red Cross after two weeks. I basically shut my business down for two weeks in order to print shirts.”

Over the coming months, Miller printed 40,000 shirts, eventually contracting it out so he could return to his typical manufacturing work. Some of those shirts were worn by some of the most recognizable Americans in the aftermath of 9/11.

“Two of them were picked up by a member of the Secret Service for the President and the First Lady,” he recalled. “We went to a Toby Keith concert a few weeks later and met him backstage. We gifted him a shirt and he wore it in concert that night.”

Rizwan Jaka

While the overwhelming energy in Loudoun County was to pull together, there was also need for education, empathy and understanding.

Rizwan Jaka ADAMS CenterRizwan Jaka, chairman of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Interfaith, Government, Media Committee, was heartened by the response of Loudoun’s interfaith community, which came together to pray for victims and first responders on 9/11.

On that same night, the ADAMS Center was vandalized, leading to difficult but necessary conversations in the community. What came from those discussions changed the community for the better. Jaka told the Loudoun Times-Mirror that members of the interfaith community responded by escorting their Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian neighbors out in public, for solidarity and safety.

In the years since 9/11, the ADAMS Center has grown into one of the largest Muslim communities in the region and across the U.S., with three campuses in Loudoun County, one other under construction, and six satellite campuses across the region. They work with the FBI field office’s Arab Muslim Sikh Advisory Council and have been working with interfaith as well as local, state and federal government officials on Afghan evacuation efforts.

“Loudoun County is among the best in the nation of interfaith, multi-faith, allyship in countering hate and countering bigotry,” Jaka told Loudoun Times-Mirror.

September 11th for Loudoun’s Military and Intelligence Professionals

Brian Steorts Flags of Valor 9/11In the weeks, months and years after 9/11, thousands of Loudoun residents answered the call to serve the U.S. military and intelligence industries. As of 2019, it was estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 Loudoun residents worked directly for the federal government, with thousands more working as contractors.

Additionally, 7.9% of Loudoun residents identify as military veterans according to the U.S. Census figures, constituting a population of more than 32,000 residents. In recognition of their service and sacrifice, Loudoun County offers veterans and their families a number of tax breaks as a small token of the community’s appreciation.

After serving, many of these people have gone on to become successful business owners and invaluable members of Loudoun’s skilled workforce.

Here are a few faces in that distinguished crowd:

Rob Jones

Rob JonesLovettsville native Rob Jones describes himself as “a good kid, but didn’t make friends easily.” While struggling to imagine his future in computer science at Virginia Tech in 2006, he first considered joining the U.S. Marine Corps, in part, because of the events of September 11th.

Joining the military gave Jones a mission and sense of purpose. “I pinpointed the qualities that my life was lacking: courage, spirit, tenacity, altruism, and most importantly, brotherhood,” he said.

Serving as a combat engineer in Iraq and Afghanistan, he rose to the rank of sergeant before stepping on an IED in 2010. The explosion led to double leg amputation and the loss of his role on the front lines. In recovery, he committed to continuing his service at home.

“The motto of the Wounded Warrior Regiment is ‘Etiam in Pugna,’ which translates to ‘still in the fight,'” Jones wrote in his blog. “The job of the Marine Corps and each individual Marine is to fight America’s battles. The clearest example of this is direct combat with America’s enemies. However, there are many more aspects to this fight than simply that.

“We must fight just as hard for each other on this front as we did in combat. Personally, I am no longer fit to engage in direct combat. However, the circumstances that make me unsuitable for combat make me perfectly suited for the fight at home. And now this is where I fight.”

Jones’ mission has taken him around the world, first as a Paralympic rower, winning a Bronze medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games. It was there that he met his future wife, Pam Relph, a decorated rower in her own right, and a retired British Army engineer.

That was just the beginning.

In 2013, he rode his bike 5,180 miles across the U.S. to raise money for wounded veterans. In 2017, he ran 31 marathons in 31 days in 31 cities across North America, again, raising money for veterans. He has competed in the Marine Corps Trials, Warrior Games and Invictus Games, all with a goal of serving his community, country and fellow service members.

“I want to show other vets who have experienced trauma that there’s a path; a reason to continue fighting,” he told the Marine Corps Times. “We all have to be willing to share our story.”

Jones also helps his wife and her business partner with Gathering Springs Farm, a diversified vegetable farm in Middleburg, Va.

Renee Ventrice

Renee Ventrice Cork & Keg ToursRenee Ventrice was a self-described military brat and joined the U.S. Navy in May 1989. She served honorably, overseas, as a Cryptologic Technical Technician, where she met and married her husband in 1994. She retired before the terrorist attacks on September 11th, but chose Loudoun as a community to live in once her husband also retired in 2001.

After working for a range of Loudoun companies, Ventrice and her husband launched Cork & Keg Tours in 2016, offering personalized tours of Loudoun’s agritainment economy.

“My military training and experience are a subconscious part of my daily life, from the way I raise my son to the way I conduct business at Cork & Keg Tours,” she told Authority Magazine. “The impact on my business is my compulsion to leave no one behind. I try to be a mentor to those who are in an earlier stage of their entrepreneurial journey by sharing tips and tools to help them succeed.

“I firmly believe a rising tide lifts all ships, so I collaborate and share with others in my industry, making all of us a stronger unit. The other most impactful part of my military background is my ability to overcome a challenge or change in the face of uncertainty and come out better without hesitation.”

She added: “Fear and resistance to change cripple many people but for me, change has always been the only constant. If it’s not a challenge, it’s not as rewarding!”

Ventrice also remains involved with the military community through Veterans Moving Forward, and serves the Loudoun community through her service on the Rural Economic Development Council.

Brian Steorts

Brian Steorts was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne and left service for the civilian world before September 11th. In the aftermath of the attacks, he re-enlisted, joining the Air Force Special Operations Command as a pilot.

Between 2005-2015, Steorts served eight combat deployments in the Middle East and Africa, until a service-related injury ended his military career. During rehab, he wanted to show his patriotism with an American flag for his house, but found that most were not made in America.

This kicked off a passion project for Steorts, to create artisan American flags, with American products, employing retired American combat veterans. In 2016, Flags of Valor was born in Ashburn, Va.

“Besides serving my nation in combat, leading Flags of Valor is the single greatest honor of my life,” he told Military.com. “It’s a tremendous privilege to spend every day with the men and women who have served and continue to serve.

“We believe our flags are a tangible expression of a shared patriotic bond. We hope they offer our supporters a small piece of permanence that will remind them of their own American inspirations.”

Flags of Valor is also dedicated to supporting veteran employment in any industry, donating a portion of sales to support the Northern Virginia Technology Council Foundation’s Veterans Employment Initiative.

Shawn Mitchell

Shawn Mitchell Modern MechanicalShawn Mitchell joined the U.S. Army in the late 1990s, serving a tour in Bosnia and later deploying to Iraq after September 11th, before being medically retired.

He credits his military service with giving him the right perspective to start and run Modern Mechanical One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, a very successful heating/AC/plumbing/electrical contracting business in Loudoun County.

“People like to do business with folks they know, like, and trust, and who share their values. It may be cliché, but you don’t realize how good you have it here in America, especially in Loudoun County,” he told City Lifestyle. “Having served in Bosnia and Iraq, I am continually reminded of the freedoms we have and the opportunity we all have to make a difference in our everyday lives.

“No matter how bad of a day I am having, no one is shooting at me, so it’s not that bad.”

Mitchell launched Modern Mechanical out of his Ashburn basement in 2010. By 2013, he was named the Loudoun County Chamber’s Entrepreneur of the Year, and was twice named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing U.S. companies. He was named to multiple 40 Under 40 lists and has since been named to Virginia Board for Contractors.

Through it all, Mitchell remains dedicated to making Loudoun County a better place to live. His community efforts include service to the Chamber, service to the Ashburn Rotary Club, and work with the VFW. His charitable efforts include meaningful support for FreeTheGirls.org, Backpack Buddies Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, Hero Homes of Loudoun, Loudoun Hunger Relief, Northern Virginia Diaper Bank, Saving Loudoun’s Littles, the Humane Society and Capital Canines.

“The growth we’ve experienced has been nothing short of tremendous, and we expect to keep growing,” he told City Lifestyle. “But while we are growing and expanding, we never lose sight of what matters. To us, giving back to the community is always a priority.”

 

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