VICENZA, Italy – Six hundred Soldiers and family members stood for a moment of silence at U.S. Army Garrison Italy’s 9/11 Solidarity Run. You could have heard a pin drop.
Led by Col. Matthew Gomlak, USAG Italy’s commander, the event marked two decades since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The stillness of the morning marked its solemnness.
"What I remember most from the last 20 years is the spirit of unity, strength, and cohesion that followed in the weeks after the attacks," said Gomlak, who was a young infantry lieutenant on maneuvers in Washington at the time.
That fateful morning, 19 Islamic terrorists hijacked four planes, killing almost 3,000 people in the attacks. Two planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the third plane flew into the Pentagon, and the fourth crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. These attacks prompted major U.S. initiatives to combat terrorism, which began a 20-year war – the longest in U.S. history.
Lt. Col. John Hubbs, USAG Italy’s chaplain, touched on sentiments close to the garrison commander’s in his invocation.
"Hopefully, we can continue being united without having a tragedy that prompts it,” Hubbs said.
The virtual solidarity run, coordinated by Vicenza Family Morale, Welfare, and Recreation, prompted participants to run a five-kilometer route. Some elected to run further in honor of the fallen. Runners shared their lived experiences from 20 years ago with one another, where they were, how they saw communities – both foreign and domestic – come together.
Joshua Grant, FMWR’s Sports, Fitness and Aquatics strength and conditioning coach, initially felt he was unfit to coordinate the solidarity event. With recent global sensitivities of the removal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Grant conjured internal struggles from his deployments.
“We deployed for 15 months, came back for one year, then deployed again for another year,” Grant said.
His first and last duty station was U.S. Army Garrison Italy, and, after he was medically discharged, he joined the Warrior Care and Transition Program and began volunteering for FMWR. Grant realized after caring so much about smaller details for the solidarity run, he was the right person to execute the event.
“Even though this was an FMWR event, I felt there shouldn’t be any organizations’ booths displayed in the chance that focus would be taken away from the fallen,” Grant said.
Over the years, roughly 50 Soldiers from 173rd Airborne Brigade lost their lives. Many of the runners were “Sky Soldiers.” Grant strategically planned the run’s starting point at Caserma Ederle’s eternal flame, where fallen heroes are honored.
“It hit me during the moment of silence,” said Grant, with tears in his eyes. “You could feel everyone truly reflected on the September 11 attacks.”
At Camp Darby in Livorno, Italy, Cpt. Nathan Cerulli from the fire and emergency services led a memorial ceremony to honor the victims.
"The moment the attack happened, we stood together in front of the TV in a state of unbelievable, soon after I was deployed to Afghanistan to serve in the military hospital," Cerulli said. "I was glad I could help in such a hard time."
Nearby, at the Caserma Ederle dining facility named for 1st Sgt. Michael Curry who was killed in Afghanistan, a local Italian artist Eloisa Gobbo set up an exhibit with a puzzle-like U.S. flag and patriotic images of the United States. On 9/11, Gobbo was living in the States and visited Manhattan just days after the attacks.
She recalled staring at the television news in disbelief and noticed the word “LIVE” overlaying the footage – providing the only evidence a movie wasn’t playing. While in Manhattan, Gobbo was stirred by the amount of American flags on display immediately after the attacks.
“America was galvanized through 9/11 and grew a spirit of national cohesion,” Gobbo said.
Moved by the terrorist attacks, Gobbo created “United We Stand,” a huge and unfinished American flag puzzle piece accompanied with her photos she took in Manhattan. It’s since traveled around Italy at various exhibits.
“America was viewed as the most powerful country in the world before the 9/11 attacks,” Gobbo said. “The American flag is incomplete, representing the country’s vulnerabilities. Yet, the puzzle approach signifies the country standing united.”
Raised in a multigenerational military family, Dining Facility Manager Staff Sgt. Tavarious Burnett, 26, was honored to display the artwork in his dining facility.
"Although 9/11 happened in the United States, it affected Italians, too," Burnett said.
Earlier this week, as Gobbo assembled the exhibit, with her daughter, Aura, 16, who wasn’t born yet, but understands the significance of the day and how it changed the world.
“This is an important day to remember,” she said. “I’m joyful and glad to assist my mom.”