The-Soldier

The Soldier

By Andrew Goldstein Sunday, Dec. 23, 2001, Time Magazine

 

On Sept. 11, Army Chief Warrant Officer Craig Sincock arrived at the Pentagon a little after 4:30 a.m.–as usual. Sincock, a 57-year-old computer scientist, was soon to begin the daunting project of integrating the Army’s thousands of computer networks. His wife of more than 24 years, Cheryle, worked two corridors down as the administrative assistant to a top Army official. It was Cheryle, 53, a 15-year veteran of the Pentagon, who pushed Craig to get to work so early, as she liked to make sure everything was perfect by the time her boss arrived around 6.

Shortly before 8, Craig took the Metro (the Washington-area subway) from its Pentagon stop to a meeting in nearby Rosslyn, Va. When he heard the “earthquake,” he looked out the window and saw black smoke, which television reports said was coming from his wife’s side of the Pentagon. Within minutes, the roads were jammed and the Metro closed, so Sincock, who looks remarkably like Ross Perot except for his 6-ft. 2-in. height, took off on foot, sprinting two miles across highways and through Arlington National Cemetery. By the time he arrived, it was bedlam, thousands of people both fleeing and searching for survivors. Sincock tried to find his wife but also helped out, bringing water to rescuers, manning stretchers at triage sites and helping to set up temporary morgues. He stayed until 11 p.m., his dread deepening, and then returned at 4 a.m. to help out again. Six hours later, he got a call on his cell phone telling him Cheryle was officially among the missing.

But something amazing happened during those harrowing 24 hours. Sincock began to go through the grieving process, but far more quickly than others. At around 1 p.m., when his own world seemed bleakest, a friend with an alcohol problem tapped him on the shoulder and said he was ready to give up sobriety. Sincock took him aside and told him not to worry, that things would eventually work out. “When I began to help him, I got outside of myself for a few minutes, and the worry and despair was gone,” says Sincock. He discovered in himself a compassion he never knew was there. Before the 11th, he had been known for his short temper.

The next day, he went to the Red Cross tent, where a Navy chaplain told him about the family-support center at the Sheraton across from the Pentagon. Sincock had never done any grief counseling before, but, in a way, his own loss made him the truest form of grief counselor. Those who visited the center came to see him as a hero. “All I could do was share my own story with them,” he says. “Tell them what I’ve found. And that there is hope.” After Sincock’s first day there, Lieut. General John Van Alstyne, who was in charge at the Sheraton, asked him to put off his regular duties and stay with the center a while.

During those first weeks, Sincock realized that the families’ grief would last far longer than the support center would exist (it closed two months ago). He had heard about a website still being used by the families of those who perished in the ValuJet crash five years ago, and he decided to launch pentagonangels.net. It is not a tribute to the fallen, or a place to make donations, but rather a place for the families of those who died on the plane or in the Pentagon to share stories and begin to heal. It also offers practical advice. Sincock restricts access to victims’ relatives so that no one worries that rubberneckers are watching.

More than 300 people have begun to use the site. Sincock has incorporated it with the state of Virginia and paid to trademark the name. (He has spent about $1,000 so far.) Now that he’s back at work full time, he rises at 3:30 a.m. to answer e-mails, sometimes more than 100 a day. Then he goes to work at 6 a.m., gets home about 10 hours later and often stays up working on the computer until after midnight. The Pentagon has promised for months that it would put up its own website for the families. But it still isn’t available, and Pentagon officials won’t share the names of victims’ kin with Sincock, nor will they notify them about pentagonangels. “It’s a typical bureaucratic response,” he says in frustration. He had his website up and running at 7 a.m. on Oct. 12, the day he buried Cheryle.

What strikes you most about Sincock is his smile: even in the few days after the attack, Sincock had a glow about him. “I feel blessed every single day,” he often says, and it’s hard not to believe him. He loves to tell stories of the people he has helped. He says he’s now in that final stage of grieving; he is constantly flooded by wonderful memories of his wife. “What I’m trying to do,” he says, “is to pass that way of thinking along to the others. If they can only get one-tenth of that, then I’ve had a beautiful life.”