Dan Manlick could have already been retired from the military when the world changed forever.
A native of Little Falls, he first joined the Minnesota Army National Guard in 1980. At that time, he was just 17 years old. He did eight years, left for one and then came back. Now, in 2021, he is a master sergeant at Camp Ripley approaching 40 years of service.
The arc of his time in the military would change dramatically, however, on Sept. 11, 2001. Terror attacks on four commercial, passenger airliners left thousands dead in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Without warning, the United States was thrust into a time of war.
“It was scary, because now all of a sudden you’re wondering if we’re going to be deployed,” Manlick said. “At that point, I already had 20 years in the military. I could have been retired already.”
He still vividly remembers how everything unfolded from his perspective that day.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Manlick, who works in transportation, was a staff sergeant in the midst of an annual training period at Camp Ripley. His job was to haul heavy equipment from the installation to Arden Hills. Coincidentally, when he left at 7 a.m. that morning, he was driving an M911 transport tractor and trailer unit, bringing a 113 track vehicle to the St. Paul suburb.
When he arrived, he began to back up in preparation to unload. One of the individuals who worked there came and told him that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York City.
“I was thinking it was probably a little prop plane and someone was probably practicing and accidentally hit the building,” Manlick recalled, 20 years later. “Then someone else came down and said the second plane had hit and that it was a commercial airliner.”
After unloading, Manlick started on his trip back to Camp Ripley. There was no radio in the truck, so he was left in the dark in terms of what was all unfolding in front of the eyes and ears of the world.
“I kept looking at the sky, thinking it’s all over the place,” he said. “I kept wondering if I was going to start seeing airliners dropping out of the sky.”
He arrived back at Camp Ripley and turned on the TV. By then, the first tower of the World Trade Center had already collapsed. A short time later, the second tower went down, leaving the largest city in the United States enveloped in dust, smoke and debris.
He described the feeling he had upon watching the terror unfold as “devastating.”
“I just kept thinking, ‘Who would do this to us?’” he said. “Why would anyone want to do this to the United States of America? We help everyone all around the world.”
His life at Camp Ripley changed immediately.
On a personal level, he worked in the maintenance shop. They quickly got busy, as every unit in the state immediately started sending its equipment to ensure it was working and ready for whatever might come next.
The general feeling around the base was also different.
“Basically, the thought around here was, ‘When are we going? When are we going to go fix this?’” Manlick said. “That didn’t happen as quickly as some people would have liked.”
The National Guard started being called into missions in the Middle East in 2003. Manlick was deployed to Iraq, where he served from 2004 - 2005 as a truck driver. He drove an M1070 tractor with an M1000 trailer. All told, it was a vehicle that had 48 wheels with five axles on each side.
“Even though I could have been retired before that, that fulfilled my obligation as a soldier,” Manlick said. “That fulfilled my whole enlistment, so there was some satisfaction there.”
Initially, however, he said the stress that he and other soldiers felt was not necessarily about if they would be sent to help with the war effort, but when. He said they received several questions from the public about when they would be sent overseas, but they didn’t know.
When word of deployment was finally passed down, there often was not much time for them to prepare back home.
“There was a lot of fear and anxiety, because you’re trying to plan your life along with everything else that’s going on,” Manlick said. “You can’t really do that when you’re not really hearing anything from up above. I’d say not knowing was the hardest part.”
Despite all those fears, anxieties and unknowns from that day, that isn’t what first comes to mind when Manlick reflects back on that fateful day two decades ago.
He said, instead of the dark feelings of Sept. 11, 2001, he chooses instead to remember the way the nation reacted on Sept. 12, 2001.
“We were unified,” Manlick said. “That was patriotism in its best form. That is why the United States is the greatest country in the world. That’s the way it should be.”