HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Retired Major General Jeff Hammond first came to Southern Miss in the mid-seventies from Memphis, and he graduated from USM in 1979.
He was offered a football scholarship. As the team's quarterback, Hammond learned essential leadership skills that he put to use during his over thirty years in the United States Army.
Hammond said, "I learned how to think and maybe more important than anything else at Southern Miss, I learned how to love."
Hammond met his wife at Southern Miss and they have two children. Currently, he is the university's Senior Associate Athletic Director of Advancement. It's a big change from where he was ten years ago on September eleventh, 2001.
At that time, his family was living in the Washington DC area and he was a Colonel at the Pentagon watching television coverage of the attacks in New York City. He was asked by the Chief of Staff of the Army, who was overseas at the time, to get some answers.
"And I didn't have an answer. I told him I don't know but I'll get an answer for you. I'll go down to the basement of the Pentagon where the Army Operations Center is and we'll get you an answer," explained Hammond.
Hammond then said goodbye to two of his staff members and soon afterwards a plane hit the same spot as Hammond was running towards the basement. He said, "I didn't know what it was at the time, it just didn't register. But I do know jet fuel, smoke, debris, people in complete chaos and we just kept moving."
Once in the Army Operations Center, it was confirmed that a plane hit the building and the officers called their families. Later that evening, Hammond saw first hand what happened.
Hammond said, "I finally got up in my office area, I went through the courtyard of the Pentagon which was now a triage area, bodies and medical support everywhere. And I got up into my Pentagon office area and looked into it and it was like a coke can had been completely crushed. So I knew those two wonderful people has perished."
He then notified their families about their loss. "Here we are ten years later and for me it lives with me everyday. That and the ninety four soldiers I lost as a division commander in combat. That all stays with me. That's who I am. I don't forget that," said Hammond.
He said the ten year anniversary of the attacks is a reminder to the nation that there is a cost to freedom.