CLARKSVILLE, Tennessee, – Clarksville and Montgomery County’s first responders stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Fort Campbell after the local impact of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. They joined together once again 20 years later for the Clarksville Fire Rescue annual 9/11 Ceremony at Fire Station 1.
CFR Assistant Chief Michael Rios said the department has hosted the memorial annually since 2002 and wanted the 20th anniversary event to highlight how important community partnerships were during and after 9/11.
“It wasn’t just the fire department that responded that day,” Rios said. “From the military and EMS to police, every American was affected on 9/11, and we wanted to pay homage to everyone that made the ultimate sacrifice and make sure no one forgets.”
Representatives from each of those organizations formed a joint honor guard to post the colors during the memorial, setting the tone for attendees to reflect on those who lost their lives in the attacks.
The ceremony also featured a tribute to Clarksville’s fallen firefighters, a flyover from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and remarks from community leaders, including guest speaker Col. Andrew Q. Jordan, Fort Campbell garrison commander.
“Sept. 11, 2001, was a pivotal moment for all of us,” Jordan said. “Out of this tragedy rose the American spirit. 9/11 energized a solidarity and patriotism not seen in this country since Dec. 8, 1941.”
“Countless individuals tell the story that they joined the military following 9/11, and many professed the same motivation as their grandfathers and great-grandfathers had in 1941: The honor to serve and the honor to protect the nation, our freedoms and our way of life,” he said.
Many of those Soldiers and their Families found their opportunities to serve at Fort Campbell, and Jordan said Clarksville, Hopkinsville and the surrounding communities welcomed them with open arms.
“You couldn’t travel half a block or half a mile without seeing an American flag – on a shirt, a hat, a car, in a yard, on a business, in a storefront,” he said. “And every other word in this community was spoken, ‘God bless our troops’ and ‘We support our troops.’ For our Soldiers, they were able to answer the call and focus on their mission downrange in harm’s way because they knew their Families would be taken care of back home. They were taken care of by these communities.”
That was especially important as Fort Campbell took on a leading role in the War on Terror, which the U.S. launched after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
“The 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) were the first to deploy just days following the attacks,” Jordan said. “They were followed closely by the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), 3rd Brigade Task Force Rakkasan, and these Fort Campbell Soldiers were the first Americans to avenge the attacks against their fellow countrymen.”
Since then, the 101st Abn. Div. has completed more than 40 combat rotations supporting the war effort, and Jordan estimated the installation’s tenant units were deployed on missions numbering in the hundreds.
“More than 600 of our Fort Campbell heroes paid the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “More than 3,000 were wounded, and countless others have returned home with the unseen wounds and scars of combat. Some are now veterans seated among us today who continue to serve as first responders, community leaders, schoolteachers, business owners, your next-door neighbors. And they serve in a capacity that touches not only our military community, but our Clarksville and Montgomery County community Family as well.”
Some of those leaders reflected on the community’s response to 9/11 during the memorial, including Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts and Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett.
“As we tally the years since Sept. 11, 2001, our memory of that day may begin to fade just a bit,” Pitts said. “And while a generation has now passed, our commitment to our first responders in Clarksville-Montgomery County has only grown stronger. In Clarksville, the question should always be, ‘how much more can we support the women and men who wear the turnout gear or put on the police blue to protect us?’”
Durrett said it is important to remember both the people who lost their lives on 9/11 and the Soldiers who deployed in the aftermath, noting that their efforts have protected the U.S. from further attacks since then.
“There’s a lot of people to remember, and one of the things that I think is so important about today [is unity],” he said. “If you look back 20 years ago, what happened to our country? Our country came together as one. Now, unfortunately, we’re somewhat divided, so hopefully today we’ll begin the process of bringing our country back together and sharing the values that we all love so much.”
Jordan said Clarksville-Montgomery County exemplifies those values, noting Soldiers and Families often choose to stay in the area once their service in the Army ends.
“Employers, churches, schools, they welcome them into this community and they quickly become part of the Clarksville-Montgomery County family,” he said. “That American spirit is deeply ingrained within our culture ... we stand shoulder-to-shoulder in defense of this nation with our Clarksville-Montgomery County first responders, just as we did 20 years ago.”