By Bob McElroy IMCOMSeptember 17, 2017
CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea - When commercial airliners struck the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and another crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania the world changed and America went to war.
America is still at war 16 years later but the memories of 9/11 last and compel us to honor the nearly 3,000 people who perished that day.
Honor and remembrance were themes that resonated here on Saturday Sept. 9 as the Soldiers of the 304th Expeditionary Signal Battalion opened the seventh-annual 9/11 Memorial Rucksack March.
"For the next 48 hours we march to pay tribute to those who tragically lost their lives during the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said Lt. Col. Robert L. Collins III, 304th ESB commander. "We also show honor toward those first responders who lost their lives as they tried to help those in need that day.
"And let us also not forget the thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen that have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the years following in the global war on terror."
Collins said that all proceeds from the march will go to Army Emergency Relief which supports Soldiers and Families in need around the world.
The featured speaker of the day was Eighth U.S. Army commanding general Lt. Gen. Thomas S. Vandal.
"Hoooah! It's great morning to come out and do a little ruck marching today and for the next 48 hours," Vandal said.
Vandal thanked the Soldiers for their commitment to the Army, to America and the Republic of Korea. He also thanked them for demonstrating why it is important to remember why 9/11 is such a significant emotional event for all Americans.
When American Airlines Flight the Pentagon was attacked on 9/11 Vandal was a lieutenant colonel serving in the National Military Command Center there.
"That day sticks in our memory of something we will never forget," Vandal said. "And the reason in my own personal case is going back into the Pentagon while it burned to conduct triage, to conduct casualty evacuation of those warriors, those soldiers and other Department of Defense representatives that were in the building, that were killed on 9/11."
Vandal said we also remember all of those in the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in New York City and the airline that crashed in in Pennsylvania killing all aboard.
"It's important for us to remember that day and why we continue to serve as an army at war for 16 straight years," he said.
Vandal said in the aftermath of the attacks he remembers President George W. Bush telling the military service chiefs to get ready for war during a joint session of Congress.
"That message resonates with me today," Vandal said. "We have been ready, we have been an Army at war for 16 years.
Vandal said that everyone has a responsibility to remember what 9/11 represents as we look toward the future.
"It represents the spirit of America," he said. "There are enemies out there willing to attack freedom and willing to attach the American people and it's up to us, that one percent of Americans that serve our nation, that defend the United States of America to stand firm."
His voice rising, Vandal praised the Soldiers for their willingness to do something most Americans eschew.
"Each and every one of you have stood up and done what the vast majority of Americans cannot or will not do for their nation and that's to defend freedom and freedom is not free. It requires service and sacrifice of every American," he said.
Vandal closed with a final thought.
"I'm proud to serve with you today and I'm proud to have served my military career with each and every one you," he said. Your participation today continues to sound a message to all of those who want to threaten freedom that freedom is not free, that we remember the lives that were lost on 9/11 and we will continue to serve this proud nation."
The first group of marchers began at about 10:30 a.m., Vandal and his wife Doreen were front and center. Not far from them in the front rank, Sgt. 1st Class Will Orozco carried not only a full rucksack but the Eighth Army colors. He also wore his protective mask.
Each marcher walked 9.11 miles around Camp Humphreys with a rucksack that weighed at least 35 pounds. Some, like Chaplain (Maj.) Jason B. Palmer, ran the course.
Palmer, the brigade chaplain for the 2nd Brigade Armored Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division based at Fort Hood, Texas, finished his march in 1 hour, 57 minutes.
"I had a great time and enjoyed it," Palmer said.
The marchers continued to walk day and night until Monday morning Sept. 11. In all 267 marchers participated and raised more than $5,000 for Army Emergency Relief.
Col. Warren R. Wood, deputy commander 1st Signal Brigade, Yongsan closed the event with praise for all the volunteers who set up and ran the event as well as the marchers.
"The community spirit of U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys alive and well," Wood said.
Wood said that 9/11 is a time of year for all to reflect. He noted that while some have said that America is tired after 16 years of war the country's spirit thrives in those who serve.
"Our country may be tired but its spirit as demonstrated through its sons and daughters is as strong and bright as it's ever been and we should be encouraged by that and feel blessed by that," Wood said.
Wood also reminded Soldiers that September is Suicide Awareness Month. He said he linked suicide awareness and 9/11 for good reasons.
"As a nation and as an Army we've come too far, fought too hard, endured too much hardship and shed too much blood for just causes and the ideals of liberty and freedom--not just for ourselves but our allies," he said. "To lose our team mates to suicide, something in our power to prevent, is something we can't accept.
Wood said that if we want to remember and honor those who died on 9/11 then we should remember and help the team mates we have here today, the ones here now.
"The biggest hurdle is showing someone that they're cared about, that they're not alone; reach out and talk to them, see how they're doing," Wood said. "It's usually the buddy on the left and right of us that really makes the biggest difference in our daily lives and tough situations."
The top three finishers by gender received a medal; the top 30 finishers received a commemorative coin and the top three units, guidon streamers. The top ten units that marched received participation streamers.