NEW YORK (Nov. 20, 2014) -- More than 25 Soldiers from units across Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland visited the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum Nov. 14, honoring the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001 and reflecting on their service to the nation.
The trip was part of the annual "Spirit of Thanks Tour" coordinated by the Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor, a Harford County Maryland governmental organization that brings together multiple counties in Maryland and neighboring states to ensure a high quality of life for those who live and work in the defense community surrounding APG.
"CSSC began the Spirit of Thanks Tour five years ago as a way to give back to our active military, appreciate our veterans and be reminded of why we do what we do as a defense community," said Karen Holt, CSSC regional BRAC manager.
Soldiers had the opportunity to explore the memorial grounds, including the two reflecting pools that reside in the footprints of where the World Trade Center towers once stood.
The group broke apart to privately tour the grounds and reflect, as they passed the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvannia on Sept. 11, 2001, and during the WTC bombing in 1993, inscribed on the memorial walls.
"My deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11 pale in comparison to the bravery and sacrifice shown by the firefighters and first responders on that day," said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Conway, ATEC Army Evaluation Center. "I am forever humbled and can only hope to honor their selfless actions with my continued service."
During the trip, the group also visited the museum where they learned about the engineering behind the construction of the twin towers in the 1960s and 70s, saw the buckled and melted steel that took a direct impact from the hijacked planes, walked along what remains of the steel framework still embedded in the towers' original foundation and viewed artifacts donated by survivors or the family members of those who died 13 years ago.
"[The museum] became real personal when I saw the remnants of wallets, purses, etc. that belonged to the victims," said Staff Sgt. Tracy Campbell, of RDECOM. "It was much more than I anticipated. I thought that we would only see the structure of the old towers."
The historical exhibition of the museum chronicles, in detail, the events that led to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the horrific and heroic events that day, the aftermath and life in a post-9/11 world. Like many others, Conway quickly discovered one could spent their entire trip to the museum in this exhibit alone.
"I found myself engrossed in the historical exhibition, reliving that day and the many more days of disbelief and despair that followed," Conway said. "I lost track of time and wound up having to rush through the remaining portion of Foundation Hall. I will absolutely be returning with my family and spending an entire day there."
For most of the Soldiers, this trip was their first visit to the memorial and a somber reminder of where they were on Sept. 11, 2001.
"[The trip] was a great experience because you remember where you were, what you were doing and really how far we have come to overcome the events of that day," said Sgt. 1st Class Rickie Allen, an equal opportunity advisor at CECOM. "You'll always remember where you were when you heard the World Trade Centers were hit."
"I was in Germany having a grand old time when the Towers were struck. After that day though my service to our country became very real," Campbell said.
While only in the second grade on Sept. 11, Spc. Yukeria Johnson, of the 20th CBRNE Command, was moved by the memorial and the museum exhibits.
"The memorial and the museum were both so beautiful in design. I can tell a lot of thought went into the projects," Johnson said. "I did not know I would be so emotional -- to know I was standing where thousands of my fellow Americans died -- it was very eye opening."
"It just reminds that this so much bigger than myself, I do this [serving as a Soldier] for my country," she said.
Garrison Commander Col. Gregory McClinton and Garrison Command Sgt. Major Jeffrey Adams also attended the trip.
"The trip was very eye opening," said Adams. "You hear about them [the events of 9/11] but you can't really imagine what it was like until you see first-hand."
The CSSC hosts a Spirit of Thanks Tour each year for Soldiers at APG, traveling to different locations, with the help of local sponsors.
"This year the opening of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum resonated in so many ways with the mission of APG, the continued commitment of our Soldiers to serve their country and the patriotism that is prevalent in our community. When we reached out for sponsor support, it was warmly embraced. The experience was something everyone could get behind," Holt said.
Several retired service members, sponsor representatives and community leaders also took part in the trip.
"The added benefit of bringing Soldiers and community business leaders together for camaraderie, remembrance and reflection further reinforces the strong community and installation partnership we have here in the APG region," Holt said.
For more information about the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum, visit www.911memorial.org.
For more information about the CSSC, visit www.apg-cssc.com.