FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Soldiers from Fort Campbell have spent the last 20 years serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and the terrorist attacks on 9/11 that led them there never faded from memory.
The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) gathered Sept. 10 at division headquarters for the 20th anniversary 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony, reflecting on those who lost their lives during the attacks and the installation’s role in the ensuing combat operations.
“Every Sept. 11 is a stark reminder of the most searing national event of our lifetime and one of the most pivotal events in our nation’s history,” said Maj. Gen. JP McGee, commanding general, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell.
“It is an event that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania,” he said. “The attacks that day, along with those who orchestrated it, did not discriminate against age, race or religion. They aimed to tear apart the very fabric of what our country stands for and they failed.”
Instead, McGee said, 9/11 proved the lengths U.S. citizens are willing to go to for one another, from those who rushed into burning buildings to save those trapped inside to the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 who prevented hijackers from crashing into the U.S. Capitol Building.
“Less than a month later, after the Taliban refused to turn over the Al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for these attacks, Soldiers from our very own 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) led the invasion of Afghanistan,” McGee said.
Shortly after they were followed closely by the 3rd Brigade Task Force Rakkasan,101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
“These elements proved decisive in destroying any Taliban resistance and led to the establishment of a new government in Afghanistan,” he said.
The Taliban seized control from that government in August after the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan, and McGee addressed the feelings many Soldiers and Families are experiencing as a result.
“I know many currently serving Soldiers, veterans and Gold Star Families are questioning the nature of their service in this conflict,” he said. “I know many are questioning the cost they endured, and this cost is measured in many ways. The loss of comrades, the wounds we suffered – either seen or unseen – the separation from spouses and children. I know many are questioning if their sacrifice was worth it. I know I have.”
McGee, who served in eight combat deployments to Afghanistan and traveled there almost yearly between 2002 and 2015, said it is important to remember the lasting impact the U.S. military left in Afghanistan despite current events.
“When I first traveled to Kabul in early 2002, Kabul was a dead city with no electricity, little running water and gutted by decades of conflict,” he said. “Under our watch, Kabul and the other major cities in Afghanistan rebuilt, grew, established essential services and improved the lives of their citizens. Flying into Kabul one night in 2013, I was shocked at the size of the city and how illuminated it was.”
With support from the U.S. government, McGee said Afghanistan saw a rapid rise in life expectancy (from 45 to 67 over a 12-year period), significant opportunities for women to pursue education and employment, an expansion of roads, fresh water, electricity, cellphone service and overall modernization.
“I understand that many of these accomplishments are not front and center of many Americans’ minds,” he said. “But what we accomplished in this area was significant and should be a source of great pride. And if we accomplished nothing else ... in the last 20 years, not a single attack against the homeland of America has emanated from Afghanistan or the Middle East. That was our original purpose, and we accomplished it.”
Soldiers from the 101st Abn. Div. served with honor, cared for their fellow Soldiers and gave their best efforts to accomplish the mission each day under dangerous circumstances, McGee added.
“I know that because I served alongside you and did so with great pride,” he said. “You can know that you honored your Family, your Army and your country by your actions. You should never question yourself about that.”
The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) has conducted more than 40 combat deployments and sustained more than 3,800 casualties (more than 600 killed and more than 3,000 wounded) in the Middle East since 9/11, and the installation’s tenant units also have served and sacrificed to support those missions.
Fort Campbell continues to play a major role in supporting Afghanistan’s civilians today, with Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Abn. Div., helping to resettle thousands of Afghan Families arriving at Fort Pickett, Virginia.
“As they arrive in the U.S. to begin their new lives in America, their reception into this great land is being run by Soldiers wearing the Screaming Eagle patch,” McGee said. “I know this fact brings me great pride, and I know it does in all of you as well – and it is a fitting mission for the 101st and Fort Campbell to play this role now, 20 years after Sept. 11.”
Whatever the division’s next mission may be, McGee said 9/11 made it clear how important it is for Soldiers to maintain peak readiness.
“We are in a brief period of peace with no known major combat deployments. That won’t last,” he said. “One of the greatest lessons from 9/11 is that when the time comes, when our nation is at risk, when the stakes are highest, they will call upon Fort Campbell Soldiers to defend this nation. And between now and that moment, we need to ensure we do all we can to be ready for the call.”