There will be a lot of my fellow bloggers writing things today to memorialize the events that happened to us all on September 11, 2001. Rather than try to draw political lessons, I will just share with you the events as I saw them that day. After all, while this was a shared event of our culture, it was also an intensely personal event, first for those who died individual deaths or were impacted personally by those deaths, but also in how it changed the course of our individual lives in great and small ways.
I was stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas in the 15th Forward Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division. I was the Assistant S-3 and we had just returned at the end of August from the National Training Center where, upon successful completion of that rotation, our Brigade had taken up duties as FORCECOMs heavy Rapid Response Brigade. The idea, back in the day, was that 18th Airborne Corps, which includes the 82nd and 101st divisions, provided the light Rapid Response Brigade and one of the Heavy divisions provided a Heavy brigade that could be deployed within 48 hours. I, personally, was about to hit my 4 year mark and had decided to get out, as I was frustrated with my career as an Ordnance officer.
That day, for some reason, I had business at the Division Support Command and had entered their S2 office just as the TV showed the 1st plane hit the 1st Tower. The NCO in the office and I looked at each other and I said “well, I wonder where we are going?” I went back to my office and we all sat around watching CNN and waiting on a phone call to tell us to execute. My Angel was over at the military hospital and they immediately went on lock-down. She called me and her and our new daughter spent several hours getting off post back to our house in Killeen, about 15 minutes drive on a normal day.
There was actually not much for us to do for several days. We finally left for home that evening and, for several days, the only change to our routine was that it now took me at least an hour to get on post. I remember sitting in the living room that night and watching the news coverage with Angela and crying. We had been hit, and I wanted to be part of getting some back, but I was hesitant to bring it up with her, to radically change our life plans. It turned out I didn’t need to. She brought it up, and suggested I see about volunteering to extend my tour. We eventually got deployment orders to plus up the Operation Desert Spring battalion that was in Kuwait, but how all that played out is another story.
If we had remained the peacetime Army of my Uncle’s generation, I’m not sure I would have stayed. As it turned out, my time as a civilian after I got out in 2002 was fulfilling, but it lacked an essential something. I wound up deploying to Iraq in 2003, largely because my Angel could tell how dissatisfied I was becoming and urged me to volunteer for a deployment. I have been, by and large, very satisfied with my career. We have been to some great places, and done some great things; met some life-long friends and had transformational experiences. But, it is well to remember, had we not spent the last decade plus at war, a war that sprouted from the events memorialized on this day and paid for with the blood of innocents, much of that would never have come to be for me personally.
There isn’t much point in “what if’ing” life. We take the good and the bad as it comes, dealing with it in our own ways, according to our own passions, wisdom, experiences, beliefs and choices. I don’t know that I would change much of what I have done, except to apply what I have learned regarding perseverance and the pursuit of excellence to my earlier endeavors. The time is getting close now for me to look beyond this career. I am finally getting to the point where I look forward to what I will do outside the Army more than the next thing I will do in the Army. Which confirms for me it is time to go.
We owe so much to those who have gone before. Honor to the memory of the innocent. Honor to those who have given so much. Honor to those who answered the call, whether as a career or just to shoulder their ruck for a share of the miles. Honor to those who have supported us so whole-heartedly, even those who disagreed with the decisions to go in the first place. And, finally, condemnation and scorn for all those who refuse to acknowledge we live in a dangerous world, who feel the need to bind a nation with the chains of political correctness, who lack the courage to either man up and go find out the truth themselves or the courage of their convictions to accept the loss associated with true conscientious objector status. Scorn for those timid souls, too weak to do more than hurl maledictions at their betters without the courage of their convictions to actively work to change things. The Monday morning quarterback trolling on forums and blogs who have never tasted the mud and blood and dust of the arena themselves but feel free to dispense advice to veterans because of their HALO 3 ranking or liberal arts degree.
I will share with you a final secret. Life isn’t nearly as neat and tidy as the media would have you believe. There is truth in the idea that “America’s chickens have come home to roost”, as much as the righteous indignation of a nation watching the “religion of peace” rain fire and destruction on our innocents. There is much to be answered for in how we have conducted ourselves in this war, but little in the idea that warriors are somehow sub-human degenerates, a hair trigger away from mass slaughter and rapine. I have very fond friendships with both Iraqis and Afghans. And I have had both try, sometimes VERY actively, to kill me. I have gone a little native, adopting bits of their food and culture as my own. I have developed a much deeper appreciation for the advantages I have been born into. Nothing with humans is easy or neat or clean, and anyone who tries to tell you “they know” is selling something.
Whatever you believe about this day, never forget the innocents, acknowledge the effect on us all and have the courage to live what you believe and devil take the hindmost.