In the fall of 2001, Shelli Altopp-Miller was living with her husband and two small children at Pope Air Force Base. He was on active duty with the Air Force, she was a stay-at-home mother.
On the morning of September 11, Altopp-Miller was at the Main Post Chapel on Fort Bragg for an event hosted by the Protestant Women of the Chapel.
Working as a greeter, she had one foot in the hallway and the other in the chapel when dozens of cell phones started ringing throughout the audience.
“It was bizarre because so many of them were going off at once,” she recalled. “There was sort of this hushed silence, people whispering, bewildered looks, confusion. Then it was like time stood still.”
Behind her, a soldier in the lobby was glued to the television murmuring in disbelief. She turned to the screen just in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Center.
The event ended abruptly, as dozens of women left to try to contact their spouses and family members.
The next day, the family decided to try to keep to their regular routine for the sake of their children. After dropping off her kindergartener, Altopp-Miller and other moms found themselves walking and talking as a group, trying to process what had happened and what might come next. They walked the entire flight line that morning, she remembers, jokingly labeling themselves the Stroller Brigade.
The common goal of the assembled mothers was to share a sense of strength and resilliancy with their young children.
"We can't do much to help what has happened, but we're here to take care of the homefront, and to keep things stable for our children and our husbands as their lives are being turned upside down," she said.
“There was such a sense of community there in those days that followed 9/11.”
Ft. Bragg Stories is a collaboration between the Fayetteville Observer and WUNC's American Homefront Project to commemorate a century of history at Fort Bragg through personal narratives. You can hear other stories in the series here. If you'd like to share your Fort Bragg story, you can send it here, or email email@example.com.