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A new world for Fort Lewis since Sept. 11

This morning in front of post headquarters, Fort Lewis will commemorate the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks with a flag-raising ceremony.

While the number and scope of such remembrances gradually has decreased, the imprint left by the events of that day endure for Fort Lewis, McChord Air Force Base and the military community.

About 10,500 Fort Lewis active-duty soldiers are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, some for a second, or even a third, time. Nearly 800 airmen from McChord are overseas. More than 170 Fort Lewis soldiers and one local airman have died in the conflicts. Thousands of military families are enduring lengthy separations.

Since 2001, Fort Lewis has mobilized or deployed individual active-duty, National Guard and Reserve soldiers more than 64,000 times.

"Fort Lewis soldiers have been heavily involved in events that have taken place since Sept. 11 and as a result of the events of Sept. 11," said Catherine Caruso, a spokeswoman at the Army post. "We're certainly active participants in the global war on terrorism."

In six years, the number of active-duty soldiers from Fort Lewis has grown from almost 22,000 to nearly 29,000, driven by the demands of the wars, the military's effort to transform itself to engage 21st century threats, base closures elsewhere and force adjustments.

The military isn't the only sector in the community still feeling the effects of the terrorist airplane attacks at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and elsewhere back East. It has changed the way some companies do business.

For example, flight schools now do background checks on applicants who are not U.S. citizens. And one spokeswoman for a car rental agency said the attack, and natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, have sparked a renewed entrepreneurial spirit among companies involved in the travel industry.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, flight schools did not do background checks on students, said Gary Bankers, vice president and general manager of Glacier Aviation, located at Olympia Regional Airport.

These days, he said, "the burden of screening students is on the flight instructors."

As of December 2004, applicants for flight training who are not U.S. citizens must pay $130 for background checks before training can begin, Bankers said.

The terrorist attack also has encouraged companies to increase the use of private jets as a safer form of travel, Bankers said. That trend has helped some flight schools increase their revenue from selling fuel for corporate jets, he said.

Sept. 11 and Katrina caused Enterprise Rent-A-Car to change its practices regarding neighborhood rental offices, company spokeswoman Laura Bryant said. The attack and storm boosted the need for people to rent cars. As demand increased, Enterprise waived its "one-way rental" policy that required customers to return cars to the offices where they rented them.

"We just couldn't sit there with cars and not respond," Bryant said.

Car rental agencies not located near airports have grown since 9/11 as some travelers have chosen to drive to their destinations rather than fly, said Neil Abrams, a consultant to the car rental industry.

"Travelers have found that it may be more user friendly to rent a car versus flying," Abrams said.

Christian Hill: 360-754-5427 or chill@theolympian.com; Jim Szymanski: 360-357-0748 or jszymanski@theolympian.com.

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