We the Partnership

Answering Lady Liberty’s call: 20 years after 9/11, Partnership employee reflects on his part of the response

By Parker Schaffel
September 7, 2021 | Updated on September 13, 2021

I remember it like it was yesterday. Sept. 11, 2001. I was a high school senior, sitting in my English class, when our principal made an announcement that the United States was under attack. I had already been planning to join ROTC in college the following year, but I had no idea at the time how 9/11 and its aftermath would impact the rest of my life. Like many Americans, the attack inspired me to serve my country and federal employees dedicated to protecting our national security.

I spent almost a decade of my life doing things and going places related to the aftermath of 9/11. I began my civilian service in July 2007 as a military analyst at the CIA working on the Middle East. About a year later, I found myself on an aircraft flying to Afghanistan. My role at Bagram Air Base, albeit for a few short months, was to help track down al-Qaida as the CIA’s liaison to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan. A year later, I commissioned in the U.S. Navy Reserve as an intelligence officer.

From 2011-2012, I was assigned to work for the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, where I was responsible for ensuring Iraq had a strong relationship with NATO and the embassy had a close relationship with Iraq’s national security council.

In 2013, I took part-time Arabic language training and was promoted to lieutenant in the Navy. I went back to the Middle East, deploying to Bahrain to work in the headquarters of the Naval Central Forces. After a few months, the Navy redeployed me to Jordan, where I served as a liaison between a three-star Navy admiral and a U.S. Army unit based outside Jordan’s capital of Amman.

In September 2017, I completed my reserve military service and was honorably discharged. I continued working at the CIA in various roles until February 2020, when I resigned and joined the Partnership for Public Service. I continue to serve the public in my current role, promoting the Partnership’s efforts to build a better government and a stronger democracy—as well as the vital contributions the government and its workforce make to our country every day.

In some sense, 9/11 brought that mission into focus. It was clear 20 years ago—and it is clear now as our nation continues to confront the COVID-19 pandemic—that only the federal government has the power and resources to swiftly respond to urgent national crises that demand immediate attention. No private company could coordinate an international war against al-Qaida and no nonprofit organization could manage the global diplomacy that mobilized our allies after the attacks. 9/11 and its aftermath showed in clear terms that a strong, effective federal government is integral to the safety and welfare of our country.

It is also clear that the attacks galvanized many people into entering public service. Almost 300,000 people enlisted in active and reserve units in the year following the attacks, and agencies created new civil service positions across the national security apparatus. While a few of those who served are well-known, like former NFL player Pat Tillman, who gave up a football career to enlist in the Army, or Gina Bennett, the CIA analyst who tracked down Osama bin Laden, most of us are not. Each person who signed up contributed to the public good. All gave some. Some, like Tillman, gave all.

Like many other people, I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. I still think about how that day catalyzed me to serve my country and, if necessary, fight to defend it. Most of my professional work in my twenties was spent on things related to 9/11—my analytic intelligence work, my military service, my Arabic language training, and my assignments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bahrain and Jordan. The events of 9/11 shaped my life. Lady Liberty called, and I did my part, albeit however small, to answer.


Parker Schaffel

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