Rick Campbell was guarding a doorway at Portland High School 10 years ago on the morning of Sept. 11.
A U.S. Marine recruiter working at Mill Creek in South Portland, Campbell had been called in by the Portland Police Department when a person with a gun was reported on school grounds and there were not enough on-duty officers to cover the school. The threat eventually proved groundless.
“Someone came out and said, ‘You’ve got to see this, something’s going on,’” Campbell said. “They had a TV on in the office, and when I saw an airplane had hit the World Trade Center, I tried to make light of it. ‘Some air traffic controller is going to lose his job over this,’ I said. But when the second plane hit, I knew we were under attack, and I headed right over the Casco Bay Bridge to the recruiting station.”
Campbell didn’t get any recruits that day, as people watched the events unfold on TV. For the rest of the week he saw a steady stream of potential recruits, including a 32-year-old business owner with a master’s degree. Campbell told the man he could sign him up for Officer Candidate School. “He said he didn’t want that. He wanted to get on the front lines as quickly as possible and fight the people who did this.”
Other recruits were fresh out of high school, people with jobs, students. Campbell said they were prompted by patriotism, anger, revenge and other emotions.
Almost all of the people who signed up after the attacks, as well as those he had recruited earlier, successfully completed Marine training.
Campbell, 40, who grew up and still lives in Gray, is still recruiting for the military.
He switched from the Marines to the 133rd Engineer Battalion of the Maine National Guard so he could be closer to home, and is now a sergeant first class.
Campbell joined the Marines straight out of high school, and was sent to Operation Desert Storm in 1991. “I didn’t do much,” he said. “The war was over when I got there.”
He later served in Somalia and two terms in Bosnia, but has not been sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. The first time the 133rd was deployed, his commanding officer refused to let him go, saying he was too valuable as a recruiter. Campbell was scheduled to go to Iraq in December 2009, but that deployment was canceled.
According to Campbell, the patriotism that brought in that first rush of recruits after the attacks continues 10 years later. Both the Marines and the National Guard are nearly filled to their authorized strength, he said, and the standards for recruits have risen.
“The people who are coming in now were 8 years old then,” he said. “Almost everybody knows someone who has been deployed. They have grown up with this war.”
Staff Editor Tom Atwell can be contacted at 761-6362 or at: