Remembering 9/11, Eight Years Later
When the 9/11 attacks happened, I remember distinctly where I was and what I was doing. At least, that is, when I first heard about them. It’s a far more mundane account than most. I wasn’t in New York, or Washington D.C., and I don’t know much of anyone personally who was. But I remember it distinctly for what it was: an attack on my country and an attack on my brothers and sisters in arms.
I had just finished up physical training. This being Fort Bliss, Texas, it was two hours behind New York City. I remember driving home to my apartment to shower, change uniforms, and eat breakfast when I heard on the radio about the attacks. Sometime after I showered, I watched as the South Tower collapsed.
I was a Specialist (E4) at the time, and I was slated to be part of a grass-cutting/weed-pulling detail for my battalion. I remember my wife driving me in to work and hearing about the collapse of the North Tower as we waiting quite some time to get on to post. Already things had changed dramatically in terms of force protection measures. Normally, those vehicles posessing a DOD sticker were simply waived through the gates to post; now, every single vehicle was stopped and all adult passengers required to show photo ID. In addition, for several days every single car entering the installation was subjected to a thorough search.
Obviously, the grass cutting detail was cancelled. Everybody reported to their respective work areas, and even there photo ID was required and armed guards were posted. This went on for a couple of days, at least.
I distinctly remember getting phone calls from many of my family members in Phoenix elsewhere. One of my poor grandmothers was especially distraught. As much anger and sorrow as there was for the victims, my grandmother was terrified for me. I think in her mind she had conjured an image of her grandson locked, loaded, and headed for the middle east that same night.
As it turned out, a few days later I would be part of a guard force providing protection for a nuclear facility in New Mexico as part of Operation Noble Eagle. We watched and waited as forces were sent to Afghanistan. I was with a Patriot missile battalion, so there wasn’t much hope of getting in to the action over there at the time, but there was a sense that what we were doing mattered. We did precisely what our country asked of us.
I enlisted in the United States Army in 1999. It is a coincidence of timing that I happened to be on active service during 9/11; it occured during my first enlistment. What constantly inspires awe in me are those new Soldiers who continue to enlist long after that day, long after the war in Afghanistan began, long after the war in Iraq began–full knowing what waited for them. Enlisting in the armed forces is tantamount to buying a plane ticket to Iraq or Afghanistan.
We service members are constantly thanked and lauded for our service. At least once, I want to tell anyone reading this how proud I am of the American people. Right or left, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, you support the troops with your hard-earned tax dollars, with kind words, with letters sent to Soldiers on the battlefield, with care packages, and often-times with your presence when we depart and when we return. I would like to think of myself as something of a wordsmith–a man who has a firm grasp on the subtle nuances of the English language. I am afraid I really don’t have words equal to the task of describing for you what it is like to see my countrymen bid us farewell in airports all over the country. I can’t tell you what it is like to walk through the international gate at DFW international airport to the cheering and clapping of throngs of grateful people. It is one of the great priveleges of my life to shake the hands of great Americans thanking me for my service. I still keep every single letter and card I have received while deployed to Iraq. I wish it was possible to describe the joy I have felt when reading a hand-made card sent by some patriotic child. Ten years after that first enlistment, it is an honor to serve the greates people in the greatest nation on Earth.
So, from one humbled member of the profession of arms, thank you.