By Julie Knight
Anne Skelly will never forget one of the most harrowing days of her career — working inside the Pentagon when Flight 77 hit the building.
At the time, she was an Air Force major and a speechwriter for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, as well as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
The Day of the Attacks
Earlier in the day, Anne says, “My supervisor called me into his office to see the TV reports of what was unfolding in New York. After the second plane hit the World Trade Center, it was obvious something was going on. When the plane struck the Pentagon about a half hour later, I heard a distinct but muffled sound.”
Anne and her fellow team members quickly exited the building. “Outside, I remember turning around and seeing enormous black clouds of smoke surging skyward, with no idea what the source was, since the Pentagon is so massive. I remember hearing sirens almost immediately.”
Finding Resilience in Tragedy
The day after the attacks, Anne, along with all uninjured Pentagon staff, demonstrated resilience by returning to work. The smell of jet fuel still lingered in the hallways.
To help give hope to the shocked nation, Anne relied on storytelling, bringing hero stories to life.
“We shared stories of what young men and women in the armed forces were doing around the world. I learned not to over-embellish hero stories and let the facts and — whenever possible — the service members speak for themselves. I remember how one sergeant summed up the way his unit faced a certain hardship in Iraq: ‘We’re soldiers and we drive on.’ I don’t think there’s anything more powerful than such simple and direct words. We only had to shine a light on that kind of selfless service and resolve to reassure people all over the country.”
Tragedy brings out the best in people, Anne says, “as recent events sadly remind us.”
20 Years of Storytelling for the Government
Anne spent more than two decades in the government defense arena. Her career began with a public affairs position in “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band.
During her job interview, Anne says, she got to hear the band perform for local school children. “When I heard the Star-Spangled Banner played by these amazing musicians in brilliant red uniforms, I got goosebumps and wanted to help let the world know how great this band is.”
That job led to the Air Force and various other roles until she eventually became a speechwriter.
For the past 10 years, Anne has worked for oil company Chevron, starting as a speechwriter before taking on her current role as senior communications advisor, supporting employee communications for a senior executive.
She joined IABC about 20 years ago while working as an Air Force captain and speechwriter. At the time, she was crafting communications for a four-star general in charge of the Air Force’s heavy bombers and fighter aircraft units.
One address, titled “The Spirit of Kansas,” celebrated the addition of a new B-2 bomber to the fleet in 1996. IABC Richmond, Virginia, presented her with a “Best in Virginia” award that year for best speech.
As a novice speechwriter, she says she appreciated the encouragement received from IABC and continues to enjoy attending events as a member of our San Francisco chapter. “I love the opportunity to feel connected to and learn from other professionals who are dedicated to their work and looking for new ways to do things better.”
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Julie Knight is an award-winning, accredited business communicator and storyteller. Her clients have included The Walt Disney Company, Starbucks, Cisco Systems, Genentech, McKesson Corporation, Clorox and Hewlett-Packard, to name a few. Connect with Julie on LinkedIn or missionpossible.strikingly.com.