I got out of the Army National Guard in August 2001. I had been on inactive status for a year, while I worked as a UN police officer in Kosovo. When my enlistment expired I considered just staying out. Yes, the Guard is allegedly only one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. But it seems like it’s always getting in the way of work and family life.
On 9/10/01 I came home on leave from Kosovo. I heard the news as I drove my son to school. As soon as I got back home I rushed to the TV. My wife and I sat in shock, just like everyone else in the country, mesmerized by the horror of it all.
I knew, for certain, that America would hit back. I knew our lives had changed drastically. And I had a horrible revelation.
We’ve been attacked. We’re at war. And I just got out of the Army.
I felt sick over it. My friends were still in. I couldn’t stand the thought of them going to war without me.
Commentators on television were already saying the government had to “do something”. I agreed, but I’m not the kind of person to demand action from others. If “someone” needs to do something, that someone is “you”.
I called a recruiter and set up an appointment. Three weeks later, the day before I flew back to Kosovo, I swore back in to the National Guard. Six months later I was back at my unit. In 2005 I ran convoys on Iraqi highways, muscles clenched tight against IED attacks that were as inevitable as they were unpredictable. In 2009 I trudged through Afghan valleys, trying to track down the enemy who had helped al Qaeda attack us.
I was never hit. In Iraq other teams and convoys took horrible losses, but we were always lucky. In Afghanistan men died in ones and twos and threes around me. I came home without a scratch.
Twelve years after 9/11, almost four years after my service in two wars, I look back on the attacks and ask myself, What have we accomplished?
In Iraq I never heard a Soldier claim we were fighting those responsible for 9/11. If a Soldier ever said something like “I’m here to avenge the Twin Towers” he probably would have been laughed out of the room. I think we knew that, at best, some of our enemies sympathized with al Qaeda, or became AQ after we invaded. But we certainly weren’t going to kill anyone who planned the 9/11 attacks.
In Afghanistan I never heard any talk about 9/11 either. We were there to oppose the Taliban. Their past support for AQ didn’t feel like it had anything to do with the war anymore. America and NATO were trying to turn Afghanistan into a democracy, the Taliban didn’t want democracy, so we were fighting them. By the time I arrived, I don’t think any troops on the ground really believed Afghanistan would ever be a democratic anything. We were just there for the fight.
So was our collective wartime service worth it? Who knows? I don’t have any answers.
But I am proud of my service. I’m proud of the men and women I served with. I’m proud of the memories, even the bad ones. I treasure time spent in the presence of those who chose to risk their lives for a cause, even after hard reality stripped away the last vestige of idealism.
Whatever history says about our response to 9/11, I’m proud I was part of it. No, that response wasn’t perfect. But it was carried out by men and women who didn’t just sit on their couch and demand that others act in their defense.
To all those who actually took action after 9/11, whether it was through military service, supporting the troops, donating to help people overseas, or even protesting the war if you truly believed that was best for America, Happy Patriot’s Day.
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Tags: 9/11, veteran writers