The distance between Juneau and the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York City seemed to shrink this morning.
An American flag and an Alaska flag that flew over a medical tent at "ground zero" of the World Trade Center ruins for two weeks were raised this morning in the plaza next to the Dimond Courthouse, across from the state Capitol.
The ceremony, overseen by Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, recognized the efforts of 44 state residents in the Alaska-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team, or AK-1 DMAT.
The team's volunteers became federal employees under the Department of Health and Human Services when activated Sept. 30. They returned to Alaska on Thursday after 12 days of treating police officers, firefighters and other emergency personnel who have been removing rubble and bodies from the site of the demolished twin towers.
Ulmer said the DMAT team made "a huge difference for the people who were suffering."
DMAT Commander Phyllis Goodwin said the team assisted at least 1,000 people, generally treating broken bones, lacerations and eye irritation from dust and smoke. There was emotional healing as well, as many of the emergency workers stayed for half an hour after being treated in order to talk through the experience of losing colleagues and removing bodies.
For the Alaskans who provided medical care, "Huge is the word that everybody uses," Goodwin said from Anchorage this morning. "Because TV just doesn't do it justice. It's not until you're standing there at ground zero that you're really hit by the rubble pile. I think everybody was just overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the situation, and the fact that it's a mass grave."
Most of the Alaska team was from Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. There was one Juneau resident, but he has asked not to be identified, Goodwin said.
This was the first time the AK-1 DMAT team was fully deployed on a national level, she said. "They were just outstanding." Individual members of the team previously had undertaken national duties such as the processing of refugees from Kosovo.
Goodwin said she was struck by the "class and courage" of New York's emergency responders. "The people of New York are really the heroes. They are just awesome."
At today's flag-raising ceremony, Ulmer led a group of about 20 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from Juneau Community Charter School through the Pledge of Allegiance and "The Star Spangled Banner." Civic involvement is one way to honor the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, she said.
"It's a very important thing for us to say, 'Wow, we're glad we live in America,' " Ulmer told the pupils. "Don't forget when you turn 18 to register to vote."
Bill McAllister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.