For Sub Base command master chief, call to service increased after 9/11
Groton — On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Kellen Voland, then a high school senior, got coffee with his girlfriend, now wife, Laura, and they drove to school together.
As Voland walked into his AP European History Class at Robert E. Fitch High School, he saw his teacher staring at the television and teachers coming in and out of the classroom.
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When they heard a plane had flown into the World Trade Center, they initially thought it was some kind of an accident, but when the second plane hit, they realized it wasn't. Everyone became glued to the TV, and children whose parents were submariners and sailors started calling home to make sure their parents were OK.
The USS Providence was on its way back to Groton and got turned around and then ultimately shot in October of 2001 the first missiles into Afghanistan.
Voland, then 17, remembers the tremendous amount of fear on 9/11. He returned home after school to hear the radio blaring and his parents sitting around listening.
"We're sitting around listening to it, just kind of awestruck by it, and then there was just this incredible sadness of we’re not safe anymore," he said.
Voland, now the command master chief of the Submarine Base, didn't join the military simply because of 9/11, but said the call to service only increased after that day.
He wanted to drive to New York to clear rubble at ground zero, but volunteers weren't being accepted at that time, and he was only 17. As soon as he turned 18, he donated blood for the first time to help with the blood shortage. He also found other outlets for service, such as student council.
Voland, a 2002 Fitch High School graduate, said he enlisted in the Navy both because he wanted to serve his country and also because he wanted to provide stability for his family. He joined the Navy in 2002 and attended boot camp in Illinois and then submarine school in Groton. His military service includes serving on the USS Hartford stationed in Groton and then as a Navy recruiter. He also served as sonar chief on the USS Missouri stationed in Groton and the Staff of Submarine Squadron Four, also stationed in Groton, and served as the chief of the boat for the USS North Dakota, also in Groton.
As command master chief of the sub base, Voland said he interviews sailors before they check into the command so he can get to know them, why they joined the Navy and what motivates them. He shares his own story, and when sailors hear that he joined the Navy in 2002, he answers their questions, such as about what was it like then, and if 9/11 was the reason he joined.
Voland, 37, who lives in Mystic with his wife, Laura, a teacher in Groton, and their two daughters, Kiely, 12, and Sophia, 9, also talks to his daughters about 9/11 and they watch the news together. He said his daughters are trying to understand it the same way he tried to understand when his dad told him the crossing guard was crying on Nov. 22, 1963 after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
He said his daughters are growing up knowing that maybe the world isn't completely safe. He tries to tell them that's what he's here for, to help the sailors get out to sea and keep us safe.
Voland said the mission of the sub base is to train submariners to carry out the nation's defense, so he takes great pride and pleasure that he's had the chance to lead the unit for six months, and hopefully for the next two and a half years. He said he's honored to be able to serve the community where he lives and where he grew up.
On the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, he'd said he'd like people to remember those that are deployed, those that were lost, and those that are serving. He said he'd like people to remember the sailors who are signing up for the job every day, even though they know the risk.
"There's a kid standing watch right now at Subase New London whose job is to protect us, keep us safe," he said. "There's a kid out there in some unknown place who's walking a post and doesn't know what the next threat is and he keeps us safe. And so I want us to remember the big moments, but I want us to think about those little acts of service that everybody does every day, especially in the uniform," he said.
Voland remembers going to the World Trade Center site in 2002 and seeing there was still ash on the cars. He said 9/11 stays with him to this day.
"You can't think about high school for me without thinking about the thing that shaped what we all do and talk about," he said. "I can't think about my service without knowing that it was shaped in some part because of it."
He thinks about 9/11 every time he goes to New York and looks at the skyline. He thinks about it when he talks to his girls about it. And he thinks about it a lot now, with the closure of the United States' combat efforts in Afghanistan.
Voland said he feels he and his peers became tied to 9/11, with about five or six joining the military right out of school and several more joining later. He said growing up in a military community also played a role.
"September 11th, as we've learned in the years since, has shaped all of us," he said. "It was (like) my grandmother's generation and Pearl Harbor. It's my parents' generation and the Kennedy assassination. It's just these events that shape who we are."