By U.S. ArmySeptember 8, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Most Americans can tell you exactly where they were and precisely what they were doing when they heard the fateful news on Nov. 22, 1963 or on Jan. 28, 1986. These dates, respectively, mark the assassination of president John F. Kennedy and the disintegration of the space shuttle Challenger over the Atlantic Ocean and off the coast of central Florida.
Ten years ago the date of Sept. 11, 2001, was seared into American psychology and culture as permanently as the tragic events of yesteryear were. The knowledge of our whereabouts and actions when we heard the news will forever be etched into our beings.
Leaving almost 3,000 Americans dead and drawing our darkest fears to the surface that terrorism was a bad bedfellow that we had been harboring within our borders for many years, 9/11 served as a wakeup call for the sleeping giant that was the United States.
As Soldiers, this wakeup call rang especially loud in our ears. We could and would not ignore the call to right what was wronged.
The most frequent question we as Soldiers are asked today is why we joined the Army after 9/11. Many Americans cheer our decision to join at this tumultuous time and are comforted by warm thoughts of our sense of duty and patriotism while they slumber. Other Americans believe that we are warmongers, hungry for oil and bent on pursuing a modern-day campaign of Manifest Destiny.
Whatever their beliefs, however, the majority of Americans support us. Being a Soldier after 9/11 is to be revered and honored, unlike our Vietnam veteran brothers and sisters or our forgotten Korean War veterans were. Today, we are applauded at airports when traveling to and from combat zones; we receive care packages and drawings from elementary school kids while we're deployed; and we are showered with gifts of appreciation and words of affirmation.
We are seen as heroes. Most of us turn around and utter in complete honesty, "thank you, but we are only doing our jobs."
Doing our jobs post-9/11, for many of us, has meant being shot right out of the cannon of basic training and into the streets of Baghdad or the mountains surrounding Kandahar. Many of us are yet children when we deploy; we're handed large weapons, heavy packs, and missions so daunting that most American adults would not be able to bear their weight or consequences. We grin and bear the trials and tribulations--sometimes as a group, but most often personally--because there is no time for crying in a combat zone. Being a Soldier after 9/11 is to live a life of many sacrifices.
As Soldiers we sacrifice our youth, both in body and spirit; we sacrifice time with our spouses and children; and sometimes we are called upon to sacrifice the battle buddy to our left and right. Many times we struggle to understand the value of our sacrifices and how they fit into the bigger picture of serving the greater good. Being a Soldier after 9/11 is about being filled with questions that have no ready or easy answers.
We aren't sure if we will be able to trust the man who was our enemy last week who our leadership tells us we now must befriend. We worry about whether or not we'll make the right call when things get hairy out in sector. We wonder if we will ever again be able to connect emotionally with our spouses or our children considering we've had to spend years being numb. And we ask God why our best friend had to die in that rocket attack.
None of these questions have answers, but we find comfort in the fact that we are not alone in the dark with our questions: battle buddies, leaders, Families, chaplains and counselors are always there to help us weather the storm. Being a Soldier after 9/11 is about being resilient.
We know we are strong and that we can overcome any challenge by applying elbow grease or by tapping into our endless reserves of intestinal fortitude. When we feel like we can't take any more beatings from life we reach out our hands to our fellow Soldiers for a boost up. And, beyond the rubble of our troubled consciousness' and hearts we live with the knowledge that we perform a mission that is bigger than ourselves. Being a Soldier after 9/11 is about helping those who cannot help themselves and preserving human dignity throughout the world.
This golden rule by which we live transcends all political boundaries and religious faiths. This is the fundamental for which we stand, as the twin towers still stand in all of our hearts.