Alumnus relives rebuilding Pentagon after attacks

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A GW alumnus who led the effort to rebuild the Pentagon after the Sept. 11 attacks chronicled how the team finished under budget and ahead of schedule in a presentation at Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday.

On Sept. 11, Allyn Kilsheimer was immediately called to the destruction site and began emergency stabilization, recovery assistance, determination of the extent of demolition and required techniques, he said. The work would continue for another 11 months as Kilsheimer acted as design team professional, lead structural engineer and owner’s representative of the design group following the terrorist attack on the building.

“The scene was pretty incredible,” Kilsheimer said of seeing the building on 9/11. “You see a lot of collapses, but somehow when it’s in your own backyard it’s even more upsetting.”

The design and construction factions he oversaw, eventually dubbed Project Phoenix, reconstructed more than a million feet of damaged and rebuilt structure during this time, resulting in the reestablishment of a government icon.

In the project’s initial stages, Kilsheimer said his job was to make sure no one else got hurt.

His motto, “Lead, follow or get the hell out of there” is representative of not only his direct leadership style, but of the mission’s prerogative to keep moving forward, he said.

Though it took a few days to figure out who was in charge of what and where, Kilsheimer said worked day and night to “do what he had to do” to rebuild the structure as quickly and effectively as possible.

“When I say I want something done today, I really mean yesterday, and yesterday isn’t fast enough,” he said.

Kilsheimer recalled the positive response of other people involved in the rebuilding.

“Within 24 hours, there was a city set up outside,” he said. The makeshift area set up behind the construction site provided workers with food, a place to rest, and other amenities throughout the duration of the project.

The unwavering commitment of everyone involved with Project Phoenix, including those who set up camp to accommodate workers, astounded Kilsheimer. He attributed this to what distinguished Project Phoenix from any other venture he has been a part of – 4,000 people were working for their country, not just for money, he said.

“I have fun all the time, and if you do what I do, you have to smile to make it through,” he said. “You can be smiling and laughing and still be serious.”

Timothy McKenna, a junior majoring in civil engineering, attended the lecture to satisfy a requirement for a class, and said he was particularly intrigued by the details of the reconstruction.

“It was very interesting to see how he went about rebuilding the damaged section of the building and inspecting sections close to it to make sure it would stand,” McKenna said.

About 70 people attended the event, mostly students and SEAS faculty members, Joanne Welsh, the director of communications for the School of Engineering and Applied Science, said.

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