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‘We can heal,’ Jefferson County counselor shares story of 9/11 response

MADISON (WKOW) — Vicki Milbrath, like many Americans, watched the devastation of the 9/11 terror attacks unfold on television.

“When 9/11 happened, I knew in my heart that I had to be there and my husband knew it too,” she said. “We would have done whatever it took to get me out there.”

Two months after the attacks, Milbrath headed to New York. The licensed counselor worked at a Red Cross family assistance center, talking with survivors and families desperately searching for loved ones.

“A person in that situation doesn’t want answers. They just want someone to listen and be there and be comforting and console. And that’s what you do,” Milbrath told 27 News.

She says it was hard to hear those stories, but she wanted to help them cope with their grief and trauma.

Milbrath ended up going back again in December, then a third time in early 2002. Part of her role was also working in the disaster mortuary and she served as a chaplain, blessing any remains found.

She’s always had a connection to helping the community, working as a deputy and EMT before becoming a counselor.

“I always thank [the victims] because they’ve allowed me to be in such an intimate part of their life, in giving me a chance to help them heal,” she said.

The experience taught Milbrath to treasure every moment with her husband, also a first responder and the sheriff of Jefferson County.

“I never let my husband walk out the door without saying I love you. I never end the conversation with my kids without saying I love you, because all those people walked out the door on September 11, 2001 and didn’t get that chance. And so I don’t take anything for granted,” Milbrath said.

Her family went back to New York in 2005, but Milbrath says she hopes to one day return to see the memorials.

She’ll be forever impacted by the strength of the nation to overcome the tragedy.

“It was horrible. But we can heal and we can be better,” she told 27 News.

Milbrath visited Madison this September 11 to share her story, as lawmakers introduced legislation for a formal remembrance of the 9/11 attacks in Wisconsin.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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