Some Routt County residents reflect on how 9/11 put their lives on hold |

Some Routt County residents reflect on how 9/11 put their lives on hold

Attacks led to 10 years of sacrifice

Hadyen resident Brett Barkey is one of several Routt County residents who put their lives on hold and chose to serve after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 10 years later Barkey has returned to civilian life and has started his new job as assistant district attorney for the 14th Judicial District.

— Looking through night-vision goggles at a rocket-propelled grenade headed in his direction, it was clear to Brett Barkey that his life had changed drastically since Sept. 11, 2001.

Before the attacks, the Georgetown University Law Center graduate and current Hayden resident was raising a family and was an attorney at the Office of General Counsel in the U.S. Department of the Treasury. He once had a corner office that overlooked Lafayette Park and the White House.

Life's detour for Barkey began shortly after the terrorist attacks a decade ago. He was called in to work early the next morning, and Barkey began drafting the executive order that President George W. Bush would sign and call the "first shot in the War on Terror." It was intended to freeze al-Qaida's assets.

Two months later, Barkey returned to active duty with the U.S. Marines, where he brought his legal expertise to the battlefield.

"I wanted to get into uniform and get into the fight," said Barkey, now 50 years old.

During his second of three tours in Iraq on Aug. 21, 2006, Barkey found himself in the back of a seven-ton armored truck with three other Marines. They were north of Baghdad and returning from dropping off Iraqi detainees. At the time, one of Barkey's jobs was to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to hold detainees.

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At about 2 a.m., he was looking above the inch-thick steel armored plate that surrounded the truck and spotted the trail from the rocket-propelled grenade.

"I could see it coming right at me, it hits the truck where I'm standing, I fall back from the impact, and I was waiting for the next thing to happen," Barkey said.

The soldiers thought it was an ambush.

"Usually, bad things happen next, like small-arms fire or machine-gun fire or you see a pink mist, which is your own body vaporizing from an explosion," Barkey said.

But nothing happened. The grenade had failed to detonate, and the truck's driver did not even notice the attack. When they returned to base, they discovered a gigantic dent in the armor where the rocket had impacted the truck.

"It was a compelling moment," Barkey said. "I often reflect on how it didn't detonate … and I was very, very fortunate, and lots of other Marines and soldiers were not as fortunate."

Country remembers

On Sunday, Routt County residents are joining the rest of America in recognizing the 10th anniversary of the deadliest attacks on American soil. The 9/11 hijackings sent commercial airliners into the Pentagon, a field in Pennsylvania and the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York resulting in 2,996 deaths. The attacks and consequential wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drastically affected the lives of local residents like Barkey and Steamboat Springs resident Paula Salky, whose 33-year-old brother, Robert Secher, a Marine from Tennessee, was killed Oct. 8, 2006, in Iraq. More than 7,000 coalition force

members have been killed in the wars.

Salky's brother joined the Marines with permission from his parents when he was 17 years old, she said, and he loved it.

"He died serving his country, which is what he wanted to do," Salky said. "We felt like he truly had a purpose."

Choosing to serve

Barkey is one of several Routt County residents who were compelled to serve after the 9/11 attacks.

Alex Epp is another. The 1997 Hayden High School graduate was 22 when he decided to join the military shortly after 9/11.

He said he was inspired by his two grandfathers, who put their lives on hold after the attack on Pearl Harbor and fought in World War II.

"They willingly dropped what they were doing and left to fight for this idea of freedom," Epp said.

Epp did three tours in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq as a U.S. Army Ranger.

He now lives in Columbus, Ga., is getting married in October and is applying the skills he learned in the military to the construction company he started.

He hopes that on Sunday's anniversary, Routt County residents will remember how they felt on Sept. 11, 2001.

Routt County Undersheriff Ray Birch also felt an obligation to serve, so at 44, the former Marine joined the U.S. Air Force Reserves in October 2001.

"Some of it was anger, some of it was sense of duty and responsibility," said Birch, who lives with his family in Hayden.

Two months after the attacks, Birch was sent on a 14-month deployment to Afghanistan and would later do two tours in Iraq.

Birch was physically unharmed during his three tours, but he made sacrifices.

"I can't tell you how many holidays I missed and missing football games that my boys participated in," Birch said. "Our family wholeheartedly agrees that while I might not get that time back, the reasons for doing what we did were so paramount that we totally understand."

Resuming life

In choosing to serve, there were sacrifices that Barkey made, as well.

His return to civilian life was realized Aug. 22 when he started his new job as assistant district attorney for the 14th Judicial District, which covers Routt, Moffat and Grand counties. He is familiar with the area having worked as the Moffat County chief deputy district attorney for 10 months through March 2008. He was shipped off to Iraq for his last 10-month tour in January 2009.

His two sons and former wife live in Florida.

"On the personal side, my marriage didn't survive the tensions that followed me wanting to go back into uniform and my ex-wife like so many other mothers and wives wanting to keep their families close and safe," Barkey said. "It impacted our family pretty dramatically because we couldn't reconcile those two things."

Professionally, he looks forward to working with local law enforcement officials and using his 25 years of legal experience at his new job.

As an American, Barkey has concerns beyond how the country has coped after 9/11. He is concerned about the country's tendency to spend more than it takes in, but he is optimistic, particularly when it comes to his home state.

"I think hard-working Coloradans continue to raise their families and great citizens regardless of where our country finds itself," he said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email

Sunday’s events for the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001

■ A memorial ceremony to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is from 7:58 to 8:30 a.m. at the Oak Creek Fire Department. A statewide moment of remembrance will be held at 11 a.m. and will be accompanied by a minute of sirens. All are welcome.

■ Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue conducts a flag-lowering ceremony at 8 a.m. on the Routt County Courthouse lawn to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The ceremony will be followed by an all-day open house at the mountain fire station, 2600 Pine Grove Road.

■ A Sept. 11 reflection is from 1:30 to 1:45 p.m. in the children’s amphitheater at Yampa River Botanic Park. It will be a time to remember accompanied by music and without words. All are invited. Bring a chair or blanket. Stories and thoughts will be shared afterward. For more information, call 970-879-8079.

■ A 10th anniversary memorial service for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks begins at 5:30 p.m. in the children’s garden at Yampa River Botanic Park. The event will honor first responders and members of the armed services. A meal will be served, and the Holy Name Catholic Church men’s choir will sing.

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