Minister recalls close encounter

Kristen Marks, senior art major (right), and family pose in April 2010 with Col. Dale Marks upon his retirement from the U.S. Air Force. | Photo by Kristen Marks

By Samantha Adams, Staff Writer

Kristen Marks, a senior art major at Union Uni­versity, remembers the job her father started on Sept. 11, 2001 at the Pen­tagon. This year, on Sept. 11, her father will preach his first sermon in anoth­er new position — Senior Pastor for Grace Church in Pagosa Springs, Co.

Dale Marks was hired in August 2001 to be the functional manager for all the Air National Guard fighter aircraft units in the country.

Before taking the job in Washington, D.C., he had served part time as an Air Force Reserve instruc­tor pilot and as a family pastor at Northeast Bible Church in San Antonio, Texas.

Though Dale Marks said he would rather have been in full-time ministry, he considered the position a God-given opportunity, because it provided medical care for his family.

“Everyone had told him that the job was go­ing to be boring,” Kristen Marks said. “(Sept. 11) changed the job dramati­cally.”

On the morning of Sept 11, Dale Marks parked near an office of the Na­tional Guard in Arlington, Va. and walked toward the Pentagon to complete the in-processing for his new position.

American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon at 9:43 that morning, 58 minutes after a plane hit the first of the two World Trade Center towers.

Dale Marks was walk­ing through a tunnel in a large highway overpass when he heard the im­pact of the plane crash­ing into the Pentagon.

“As timing would have it,” Dale Marks said, “I was unaware of the situ­ation in New York…and was just on the south side of the Pentagon parking lot when the airplane hit the building. Had I been 10 to 15 minutes earlier, I would have been in the location where the airliner impacted the Pentagon.”

It was only when he rounded the corner of the tunnel that he saw the Pentagon in flames and people running from the building, he said.

“I turned around and went to the only location I knew; I returned to the Air National Guard build­ings out on Andrews Air Force Base,” he said. “As I arrived, they closed the gates behind me. All per­sonnel were being moved to central locations, so I moved with them into the main building where I saw on the screen the burning twin towers.”

He was put to work right away.

“As I arrived in the main building,” Dale Marks said, “I went up to the first of­ficer in a flight suit I saw and said, ‘I’m the new fighter-guy, what do you need me to do?’ He im­mediately said to get into the crisis response cen­ter and get to work. They cleared me in, then put a phone in my hand and gave me a list of fighter squadrons and told me to start calling them, which I then proceeded to do to get response aircraft in the air.”

Because Dale Marks had an extensive back­ground in emergency and crisis management and in crisis and war plan­ning, the senior general put him in charge of or­ganizing the Air National Guard’s nation-wide re­sponse to the attacks.

In the course of the day, Dale Marks contact­ed his family, who were visiting relatives near Pittsburg, Penn.

Kristen Marks said she remembered first seeing the World Trade Center twin towers collapse on TV, then hearing a fam­ily member tell her the Pentagon, where her fa­ther was supposed to be, had been hit by a plane as well.

Later, when Dale Marks called to say he was all right and assisting with the response to the at­tacks, Kristen Marks said she was not worried.

“I trusted that God had him there for a reason,” she said.

Her father accepted the Sept. 11 events as the reason he was supposed to take the new job.

“In a ‘still, small voice’ moment at the Pentagon, God assured me that this was why I was here,” Dale Marks said.

Sept. 11 began for Dale Marks a nine-year span of post-terrorist attack planning, in several posi­tions. Approximately four weeks after the attacks, he was transferred to the planning teams for mili­tary action for Operation Enduring Freedom, the anti-terror war in Afghan­istan, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the war to lib­erate Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s rule.

The war planning re­quired his attention for six months, he said. Af­terward, he began fly­ing air defense missions, worked on special plan­ning projects for the Com­mander of U.S. Central Command and helped to complete the planning for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq under the direction of President Barack Obama, he said.

After retiring, he is moving once again into ministry. As Senior Pas­tor for Grace Church, he will now be serving in full-time ministry — what he had been seeking to do before moving to Washington, D.C.

“(God’s) call to minis­try was perfect, but my understanding of His tim­ing was a bit off,” Dale Marks said.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.