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InfraGard Member Focus: Henry Gralak

IMA: Even though Chicago wasn’t an epicenter, 9/11 would have affected you here as well as anywhere. How did that event change your life and your work?

HG: I went to work for United Airlines a year and a half before September 11. September 11 was a Tuesday morning — 7:30 in the morning our time. I tend not to listen to the radio in the morning. If I do, it’s oldies-but-goodies. And as I’m stepping out of the bathroom, ready to throw on some clothes, I hear on the radio station that I was listening to: “We have information that the South Tower just collapsed.” I froze in my tracks. The South Tower, to me, meant only one thing — the World Trade Center. I turned on a TV, and lo and behold, I watched it in just about real time. A few minutes later I open the trunk of my car and check my recovery manuals. I was one of two disaster recovery coordinators for United. My partner, Bob Mackie, he did the mainframes. I had global network infrastructure — the network side of the house. We trained constantly. The airlines are very big on training. They take security very seriously.

By the time I got [to O’Hare], it was about 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning, our time. Traffic significantly backed up all around the airport. We already had three layers of security in front of the reservations building. It was bedlam in there.

By the end of that day, which for us was around midnight, we knew that we, as an airline, were not under attack. But it changed our lives forever. Two Wednesdays following — I want to say, Sept. 26 — we called it Bloody Wednesday, because on that day alone, United fired over 23,000 people. In a single day. We just got assigned to a new boss. He did it the right way. Before I even sat down with him privately, he said, “Hank, I want you to know you’re OK.” The rest however, was downhill from there. Fifty-percent salary cut and forced to pay for health insurance — $404 every two weeks. I looked at my paycheck and said, “You know something? I can’t even afford gas right now.” I thought I got lucky getting a job with Motorola, but that also turned out to be not as good as I thought it would be. Motorola began downsizing the same year I was hired.

IMA: You were recognized at the most recent meeting for your many years of leadership and service. What has InfraGard as an organization meant to you over the years?

HG: When I first was exposed to InfraGard, I thought it to be a fantastic, interesting concept. That the private sector — citizens — could actually partner and work with the FBI was an amazing and innovative idea. The FBI that I grew up with in the police department — you didn’t talk to the FBI; you didn’t talk to anybody in government, and God forbid if you did. You’d be ostracized or vilified or both. You just didn’t do it. I liked what was presented. When I first started attending meetings and working with InfraGard, there were parts of government that people simply took for granted or never heard of. There was a gentleman — I think he’s an adjunct professor from DePaul, as I recall. The first time I encountered him with InfraGard, he showed us how you can walk into your local Ace or True Value Hardware, and buy the components you need to make a bomb. That was a real eye opener.

For the longest time, I was the only former police officer to be involved in the Chicago Chapter of InfraGard. At that time, colleagues were starting to dwindle because of age and retirement, but still I have to ask where were we and why weren’t we there? Same goes for my brethren in the fire department. InfraGard is a platform that every first-responder should use to help prepare for what we all know can and will come our way.

IMA: It’s really been quite a career and life for you, hasn’t it?

HG: As I told the folks back in August, over at InfraGard, I said, “You can tell by my accent, I’m a foreigner.” Because I am — I came to this country in 1951. Naturalized citizen when I turned 18. We didn’t do too bad. Parents came over here with nothing except two sons and one suitcase. My brother retired as the financial officer for DeVry, and I managed to have what turned out to be a checkered career that I truly enjoyed. end_icon