VICKSBURG, Miss.— On Sept. 10, 2001, Maj. Jarrod Gillespie, who now serves as deputy chief of contracting at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), was a junior at Alcorn State University in Mississippi. He enlisted in the Army Reserves right out of high school, and while he enjoyed being a Soldier, his plan was to graduate from Alcorn State, finish his military service and begin civilian life as a culinary arts student with plans to open his own restaurant. The next day, everything changed.
On the morning of Gillespie’s birthday, Sept. 11, 2001, he was relaxing in his dormitory room on campus when he saw the breaking news report that an airplane struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
“The news said that something had just hit one of the Twin Towers,” Gillespie recalled. “I sat up in bed, and I saw the second plane come in.”
“I remember how it was one of those ‘orange’ days, the sun was so bright,” Gillespie said, adding that the gas station at Alcorn State was jam-packed with people trying to get gas. “It was a very scary day.”
And as the day progressed, Gillespie’s dorm room phone began ringing— it was his Army unit telling him to be on standby.
While he was a student at Alcorn State, Gillespie said he was recruited by the school’s ROTC program. Because he had other plans for himself after graduation, at that time he wasn’t interested in continuing his military career.
“I was in the Army, and I really liked being a Soldier,” explained Gillespie, a native of Columbus, Mississippi. “But, I just didn’t think I wanted to be an officer.”
However, after seeing the news unfold of his country being struck by acts of terrorism, he changed his mind.
“That day, I jumped up, got dressed and went across the street to the ROTC building and signed a contract right there,” Gillespie remembered. “I was so angry at somebody attacking the United States.”
Gillespie was commissioned May 10, 2003, and he’s served active duty ever since.
“I’m really proud,” he said. “I love my country; I’m a proud American.”
After being commissioned, Gillespie’s career took him to Korea, Kentucky, Georgia, Iraq, Hawaii, Alabama, Afghanistan and finally, at ERDC in Vicksburg, where he’s been since 2018.
“At this point in my career, looking back, I learned a lot,” he said. “I was always proud and always did my best. I wanted to represent Mississippi well wherever I was.”
When he thinks back to the days and weeks immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, Gillespie said he remembers the feeling of unity he experienced, particularly when he visited his grandmother later that month in Greenwood, Mississippi.
“It felt like everybody was on the same team,” he recalled. “It didn’t matter who you were, what color or race you were—we were all Americans.”
“The one thing that came from (9/11) that I think is pretty amazing still is how it brought us together as a country,” said ERDC Commander Col. Teresa Schlosser. “There were also a lot of Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who joined because of 9/11. There were a lot of young people who said ‘I’m going to serve my country, because my country needs me right now. That’s pretty amazing.”
Today, after nearly 20 years in service and plans for retirement ahead of him, Gillespie knows he made the right decision on that tragic September day.
“To be able to be a patriot and fight for my country while representing Mississippi in a good light, that has meant a lot to me,” he said. “I’m happy with the choice I made; I’m happy with my career.”