Eleven years have passed since the morning when everything changed for an entire nation at once. Sometimes it feels like yesterday; sometimes it feels like decades ago. As with Pearl Harbor and the assassination of President Kennedy, 11 September 2001 is the defining moment of generations. My children are growing up in a country that has been at war since long before they were born, and their America will always be post-September 11. But for those of us serving then and now, that morning carries a particularly cruel weight of sadness and marks a turning point where the America we knew ceased to exist.
On September 11, 2001, I was a 1stLt at the Cobra Fleet Replacement Squadron on Camp Pendleton and was scheduled that morning for my final checkride—the flight that would send me on my way down the road to the fleet. Needless to say, the flight didn’t happen that day (or that week), but I eventually made my way to the fleet. Deployment cycles immediately started accelerating and changing, and training back at Camp Pendleton took on a whole new meaning. The peacetime military many had joined no longer existed. One of our classmates from school, Darin Pontell, was killed that morning in the Pentagon, many of us knew others who had been killed on that clear blue day, and abruptly we were gearing up for war. Suddenly everything we had learned and the commitments we’d made became very, very real and sobering. Ten-feet-tall-and-bulletproof ceased to exist, and that made us mad…and ready.
As we remember where we were and what we saw, felt, and thought eleven years ago, when what we believed we knew about the world changed drastically on one strikingly beautiful morning, one thought becomes clear. As a nation, and within the services, there is much more to unite us than to divide us. America is worth the struggle, faults and all, and I am incredibly lucky to be able to serve in our military alongside of many of the most phenomenal people I’ve had the fortune to meet.
Through the years following that morning, and the resulting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have kept and still keep alive the memory of those we have lost. Organizations like the Injured Marines Semper Fi Fund, the USNA Run to Honor, smaller nonprofits like Team Beav and the Travis Manion Foundation, and innumerable scholarships and events all keep their memories alive, and remind us of what we must fight for.
To those who have served before, and to those still serving today, thank you. I feel honored to follow in your footsteps, and to serve among you. To those who have lost their lives or have been wounded hunting down people and organizations who would hurt America, thank you. We remember. Year after year, we still remember; we will always remember. We will never forget.