If you ask anyone, they can tell you where they were and what they were doing on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. For me, it was a normally rushed morning of inhaling enough breakfast before school that I wouldn’t be scolded and rushing out the door to make it in time for first period. At seventeen years old, I had perfected the art of setting my alarm and arriving at school with just seconds to spare.
We were sitting in first period when an announcement came over the intercom. “Do not leave your classes during the next bell. Please remain where you are until further announcement.” Within minutes, phones began ringing and teachers all over the school turned on the news. We sat there staring in disbelief as we watched the second plane crash into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
Cell phones closely resembling Zach Morris’ began buzzing as our parents frantically called to check on us. Shock and panic spread through my high school while my very own friends received news of loved ones who were unaccounted for. It all seemed surreal since geographically we were states away from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
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On that day, we were thrust into the reality that our country was not the safe place we naively thought it to be. We didn’t know what would happen next. How could we? We were still teenagers. We had not lived through conflict or war. Hell, the word “terrorist” wasn’t even in our vocabulary.
My generation’s memories of Desert Storm were vague. We were very young during that time and the only thing I could really remember was my Dad telling me about the skyrocketing gas prices. What we did know was that we were witnessing something profound and life-changing.
From Waiting Tables to Iraq
While I was sitting in my high school classroom, my husband-to-be had already graduated with a degree in theater and was working as a character actor at Universal Studios and Disney. For those who are unfamiliar with the life of a young actor, he actually paid his bills from waiting tables at Chili’s.
He had expressed an interest in joining the military in high school and even spoke to a recruiter—without his parents present. This act angered his father, a Vietnam Veteran, who wanted him to go to college before deciding on military service.
While watching the news with shock and anger, his father called and after some discussion, my husband decided it was time to serve. On September 13, 2001, he walked to his local recruiter’s office wearing his Chili’s uniform with all its glorious “flare” and made the decision to join.
His Marine Corps boot camp class was the first group of recruits to have signed up and graduated post-9/11. A term that would soon describe his life. They joined, not during a time of peace, but with the full knowledge that they would be going to war.
A Generation Changed by September 11th
There are many reasons why people join the military, both back in 2001 and now. But for those of us who live this life, it is simple – our young men and women chose to serve because they wanted to fight the war on terror.
With Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, our service members have continued to answer the call for justice abroad. Through the years and shifting political climates, our military has stayed the course of extinguishing terror groups and rebuilding nations.
Those still serving who joined in the months and years following September 11th are today’s senior leaders. They lead, train, and deploy because they remember. They didn’t join just for a steady paycheck or money for college. The fire of patriotism ignited from a great act of terror continues to burn as these men and women prepare the next generation to carry the torch.
Service and Sacrifice
At seventeen I could not have predicted how personally I would feel the impact of September 11th. If someone had told me that I would one day fall in love with and marry a Marine, I would have laughed. Not just a giggle, but a loud, deep, belly laugh. The irony is not lost on me.
For the last decade, I have waved “good-bye” to my husband over and over again. From postcards written on backs of MRE’s to the modern-day email, we have spent more days apart than I can count.
Our children have endured the stress of long work hours and weeks and months that add up to years apart. The sacrifice that we, the military families, make is done so in love. Love for our service members, love for our country, and love for freedom.
My story is unique, and yet overwhelmingly the same as thousands of others. The service members—our spouses and friends—who joined as a gut reaction to 9/11, are approaching the end of their service. Some may continue on, but many will be retiring in the fast-approaching years.
We want to remember and honor those men and women who, in the full knowledge of wartime and aftermath of September 11, 2001, made the brave decision to serve our great nation. Whether it was four years or 18, we recognize your heroic service. And to the families of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, we say thank you and we remember.
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