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Labs president reflects on 9/11

Personal reflections on September 11: A year later — by C. Paul Robinson

It is said that we can never know how momentous the times are until afterward when we pause and look back on them.

Undoubtedly the past year was as momentous as any of us ever want to experience. One year later, the tragedies of September 11 still loom large. Although the sites have been cleared, the memories never will be. Nor will the bereaved ever be the same.

We have had the first taste of victory since that awful day as US soldiers in Afghanistan, with some support from close allies and the Afghans themselves (especially the Northern Alliance), have now routed the Tali- ban from power. We similarly have killed or captured a great many of the Al Qaeda terrorists. Yet a large and unknown number are still out there. The fate of their leader, Osama bin Laden, is also still unknown to us.

President George Bush, in a joint session of Congress, pronounced to world leaders that "you are either with us or you are with the terrorists." That simple maxim is still operating in a powerful way around the world, and enough time has now passed that I believe we know the choices that have been made. Quite surprising, but nonetheless important, we learned that the first leader to call the President and commit his nation to stand with the US was Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation. Our two nations have taken major first steps to try and change the relationship that had persisted for more than five decades, and are examining in serious ways how we can seek a new strategic relationship.

Within Sandia, we have done much to support the Afghan war, as well as to begin the task of building better protections for our citizens here at home. Our work has included both highly classified projects, as well as some that have been revealed to the public. These contributions have been truly significant. I decided not to try and list them here, because I cannot yet talk about many of the most important accomplishments. For those of you who trust my word, please know that Sandia has been leaving a legacy of achievements of which we can all be proud. But, unfortunately, our work is far from over.

One consequence of the September 11 events has been the larger number of government agencies that have sought out Sandia’s assistance. This gave testament that we might well have realized our "highest goal" — adopted well before September 11 — to become the lab that the nation turns to first for solutions to the problems that threaten peace and freedom for our nation and the world. Indeed, in a larger sense the aftermath of 9/11 has helped us to realize our vision of becoming "true national laboratories" — supporting every part of the US government that needs the help that our technologies can provide. We have suggested that this is the way our government should operate for the future, and we have championed this view in the impending formation of a new Department of Homeland Security.

We did prove to ourselves, once again, that for research and development to pay the biggest dividends in solving important problems, we must do the work in advance of the need. Our past efforts in strategic planning have never seemed more valuable than now, but the challenge is even greater to be ready to provide relevant technologies for whatever the future brings. We took a major step in recreating our Advanced Concepts Group to focus nearly exclusively on helping us understand how we can continue to contribute to the protection of the nation against terrorist threats.

Our lives have been changed by September 11 in nearly every corner. We deal daily with extra fences and barriers, more security guards, increased airport security, and yet that nagging sense of unease remains. Today, it is still important for each of us to hug our loved ones a little harder, to give thanks for our freedoms a little more fervently, and to continue to use every power within us to help our nation through these troubled times.

Often when I am in Washington, D.C., I get my exercise by walking the Mall between the Capitol building and the Lincoln Memorial. Just above the Lincoln Memorial and across from the Vietnam War Memorial is the Korean War Memorial. As you see the oversized statues of soldiers laboring under the weight of their heavy packs and armaments, they converge on a small wall on which are etched the words "Freedom is not free." This has always been true and will forever be so. The significant difference for all of us since September 11 is that today and every day ahead has now become our day to contribute.