I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the 10th Anniversary of the worst attacks on American soil since Pearl Harbor.
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Like most Americans old enough to remember that day, I have very specific memories of that day. But, to recount my memories fully, I need to go back to mid-October 2000.
On October 12, 2000, I was in a bitter stare-down with the Army over whether to allow my contract to expire to get out. I was six months into my reenlistment “window” and was being hounded about reenlisting for the first time at the end of a six-year commitment. At the time, I had been volunteering at Fort Irwin’s Public Affairs Office as a Disc Jockey on KNTC, the posts command information radio station. I also had a weekly column I was writing called “A Soldier’s Perspective” (interesting name, huh?) where I discussed NCO leadership issues. I was editing commercials, going on assignments to cover events for the post paper, and even editing videos.
I had decided that if I was going to stay in the Army, I wanted to be an Army Broadcaster. The problem is that for my military intelligence MOS and rank there was a “no out” call and for the public affairs MOS I wanted there was a “no in” call. That basically means that my MOS was under strength and public affairs was over strength for my pay grade.
However, I sent in samples of my radio work, commercials, and articles I had written and produced for the local PAO to SGM Prater at the Pentagon – then, the senior NCO for the PA branch. SGM Prater granted me a waiver to cross over into the MOS and I would even go straight to a unit and skip AIT due to my experience. I would have to take some follow-on courses to round out my knowledge.
Unfortunately, by this time, MI branch was still not releasing me to reclassify into another field, especially PA. So, we stared each other down. For six months, I refused to reenlist. MI branch would rather keep me for another six months and have me leave the Army than allow me to stay in the Army and reclassify to another branch. They refused to sign a waiver. I was fully committed to leaving and had even approached the Navy about options in anticipation.
Then, on October 12, 2000, the USS Cole was hit by a suicide attack at the port in Yemen. 17 Sailors were killed and dozens more injured. This alone probably wouldn’t have swayed me, but it came on the heels of four previous years of similar attacks against embassies and Kobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda and Hezbollah were becoming emboldened in their attacks and the USS Cole was the last straw for me. I decided then and there that I wanted to make a bigger difference and changed MOSs to another MI job in which I could be a part in destroying this organization.
The downside was that there was a one-year wait period to reclassify to this MOS. In the meantime, I was allowed to do some on-the-job training with the teams already doing this work while I waited my reclassification. In August 2001, I left for school at Ft. Huachuca, AZ.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, we ran a 5-mile run as part of our morning physical fitness routine. It was a clear, cool day at the foot of the Huachuca Mountains. After PT, I rode my motorcycle back to my apartment in Sierra Vista and began getting ready for another great day of training. Then, the phone rang and I was asked if I was watching the news. I turned on the TV to see a live image of one of the World Trade Center towers smoking. Then, while watching the coverage, I saw the second plane hit the second tower live! I was stunned, but more resolute than ever. I KNEW what was happening and knew that I would be a part of the response.
I quickly finished getting ready for work and headed back to post. It took me three hours to get to the schoolhouse that day. Ft. Huachuca had been shut down to everyone except essential personnel. A phone call earlier had confirmed that we were essential personnel because we needed to complete our training and get to our units.
It’s fitting, I think, that I should be in Afghanistan on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. Yet, it is somehow a little surreal. You can feel the excitement of the troops here. But, there’s also a feeling of apprehension. If there’s going to be a day where all hell will break loose here, it will be today.
Last night, the enemy reminded us what the next day might bring with a rocket attack against our FOB just before 2130 local time. Because the enemy is incompetent, stupid, ignorant, cowardly, and just plain total losers, no one was injured and no damage done. It was telling to me as the cherry on top of the American spirit.
No matter what you lob at us, we will come back bigger, stronger, and better than ever. No rocket attack – no planes flying into a building – will ever destroy the American spirit. Ten years ago today, former President George W. Bush said,
These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.
Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.
America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.
That “beacon for freedom and opportunity” is here in Afghanistan and proving to the Afghan people two things. First, if you’re with us, we’ll show you how to earn a living in a peaceful way and help you make the most of that peaceful lifestyle. Second, if you’re against us, anticipate death! Ready yourself for a fate worse than that suffered by 2,996 people ten years ago. As President Bush said back then, “the search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts” an we are here to ensure they never occur again!