Springfield native advised president during 9/11, start of Iraq War

Retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Deborah A. Loewer admittedly could talk for hours about where she was on 9/11 — and people would listen for hours.

A Springfield native who retired from service in 2007 as the highest-ranking woman in naval history, Loewer gave a minute-by-minute account Saturday at the Woman’s Town Club of being with President George W. Bush on that infamous day.

Accompanying Bush to Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla., as the director of the White House Situation Room, it was she who informed him that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. When the second plane hit, it was again she who brought the news to Chief of Staff Andrew Card, who in turn repeated her words to the president.

“I told him, ‘A second plane has impacted the towers. The nation is under attack,’” Loewer recalled saying. “Here, I told the man the nation was under attack — a little kid from Springfield, Ohio.”

A 1972 graduate of Shawnee High School, then later a graduate of Wright State University, Loewer was the guest of honor Saturday at a luncheon to honor women in the military as part of Women’s History Month.

Among the first women to serve at sea and a two-time recipient of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Loewer is essentially the living embodiment of Women’s History Month.

“I pushed hard,” she said afterward, “but I’d like to think I pushed wisely.”

This month also marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, a war that claimed 4,409 American lives. She didn’t mention it during her remarks Saturday, and no one attending the luncheon asked about it, but Loewer again found herself as a witness to history on March 20, 2003.

She was in the White House Situation Room the night the Iraq War started.

Loewer remembered the mood being “very nervous, very somber.”

A decade later, she believes the war had a purpose.

“It enabled people to govern themselves,” she said.

Iraq today is a democracy, she said. Factions that didn’t before have a voice do now.

Democracy in Iraq isn’t without challenges, “But it’s their democracy,” she said. “It’s for them to decide.”

Ten years later, the U.S. military also has been transformed. Gays and lesbians can serve openly. The final barriers keeping women from direct combat are gone.

The military, Loewer said, is better for it.

In 1979, she first reported to duty aboard a ship — one of just four women among 1,100 male crew members.

“The captain was a very seasoned old salt,” Loewer said. “He looked at us and this is what he said: ‘I didn’t ask for women on board my ship. I don’t want women on board my ship. But you’re here. XO, put them to work.’”

It’s safe to say Loewer pulled her weight, eventually getting to command ships of her own, including the USS Mount Baker, an ammo ship, and the USS Camden, a fast combat support ship.

“It was important to get through the door to let other women follow behind me,” she said.

Loewer ended her career as commander of the 28 ships, two helicopter squadrons and the unique marine mammals that make up the Navy’s mine warfare assets.

Her time at the White House remains the most significant period in her life, she said.

Like many of us, she seemingly can recall the events of 9/11 like they happened yesterday — only with details most of us can’t even imagine.

“Air Force One flew over Springfield, Ohio,” she revealed. “I had nothing to do with that.”

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