As fear swept across the U.S. in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, an Aggie working in the White House returned to the chaos to serve in any way she could.
After graduating from Texas A&M in 1999, Tiffany Barfield began her first job in February of 2001 as a staff assistant in the Office of Domestic Policy. This day was unique, as she was filling in for the assistant to President Bush’s domestic policy assistant, Margaret Spellings. The job moved her from the Executive Office building to the West Wing, where she first began to hear that something had gone wrong.
“Her assistant [returned] and some chatter had started,” Barfield said. “The first AP clip came out at the 8:30 mark that [the plane] had hit the World Trade Center. … By that time I walked back over to my office … Then the second tower [was] hit. You could just feel the tension of people trying to figure it out.”
The domestic policy staff was housed in the Executive Office, allowing Barfield to witness the reaction of the National Security Agency that was located down the hall. Despite not seeing the news coverage of the attacks, the fear was leaking into the rest of the building, Barfield said.
“[The National Security Agency’s] door flew open and some of the guys started running out,” Barfield said. “I knew something bad had happened. By that time, the Pentagon had been hit and we were told to evacuate quickly.”
Barfield met up with Marisa Medrano Perez, Class of 1995, who was an associate within the Office of Domestic Policy at the time. The pair ran as fighter jets scrambled above them, Barfield said.
“I grabbed Marisa’s hand and said, ‘Let’s say the Lord’s Prayer,’” Barfield said. “[I] had no idea that the Pentagon was on fire. By that time, the plane in Pennsylvania had gone down. Honestly, to this day, I still think [the passengers] may have saved my life.”
Barfield and Medrano Perez drove to a hotel in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and began to process the event. Barfield said they both received calls that night from their superiors about their safety,
but she knew that they would need to return to work the next day.
“It wasn’t that the job was critical, but the job was critical to the president,” Barfield said. “We were all there to serve. … The people and the comradery and the job — everything changed that day.”
As Barfield and Medrano Perez drove towards the White House on the morning of Sept. 12, they could see that the Pentagon was still burning. Barfield said personally witnessing the fire forced her to accept the reality of the attacks.
“It was real; it was so real in D.C.,” Barfield said. “[In] New York, obviously [there was] the mass destruction and the mass casualties, but death and fire was also in D.C. and you saw it going to work.”
Returning to the Executive Wing, Barfield said she could feel the tension and fear of the staff. It only worsened when they were forced to evacuate three days later from a potential threat.
“I go in, and it was just overwhelming sadness,” Barfield said. “People were nervous, on-edge and sad. At 22 years old and this being my first job, it was so hard to believe that our world changed forever that day, and it did.”
Barfield said that attending A&M and serving as a member on the Traditions Council had helped her understand tragedy and remain committed to fulfilling her responsibilities.
“I was at Texas A&M when Bonfire fell,” Barfield said. “I’m not trying to compare the events. ... But one of the things that A&M instilled was that you have to serve.”
After 18 years, her appreciation for those who serve the U.S. has never wavered. Barfield said she hopes the young Aggies who may only see the attacks of Sept. 11 as a historical event will take time to consider its significance.
“Never forget it’s not a date,” Barfield said. “Terror happened on Sept. 11, 2001. … Thousands of innocent Americans lost their lives that day. Take a moment to pause and reflect and be thankful for the people who defend your freedom.”