My 9/11 story is a little different than many. For me, it wasn’t a morning story. I was based in Germany at the time; the first plane’s impact didn’t even occur until mid-afternoon, and it was nearly dinner time before the full enormity was evident.
I was far away from family, sharing the events unfolding on television via the earliest versions of social media and chat online. And, moreover, I was in the Army. Things changed for everyone, to be true. But for those of us in the military, it changed every single thing about the next decade of our lives.
It was not just about patriotism, though there was a lot of that. It was not just about remembering, though we would have plenty of opportunity for that too. It wasn’t even just about payback (but let’s face it, we all were anxious to mete some out). For me, and for many others who were ‘mid-career’ in the military, it created a future the likes of which we couldn’t fully contemplate.
A future of deployments and sparse living conditions. A future of scary moments, of firsts. A future of personal growth and responsibility that only war can bring. A future of big budgets, new equipment, new methods. A future of sacrifice. A future that brought an end to many futures, and left those still alive in their own future of loss.
I can’t speak to how 9/11 changed the lives of average Americans; that is not my experience. But I know how it changed everything about the rest of my life, in some way or another. It changed my goals, professionally. It led me to find new levels of confidence and skill that I might never have achieved. It led me to work with the best people the military services have to offer, bar none. It enabled me to count myself among them, to be adopted into the ‘special’ world. It gave me great memories of moments of achievement and success. All great things, and all things that might not have happened, save for 9/11.
But it brought many other things. It brought a litany of losses. Of fellow aviators and warriors, most of them much better men and warriors than I, taken by enemies either human or environmental. It gave me memories of hearing the names of a crew of my friends, lost. Of being at the home of a friend and hearing the heart-rending cries of his five year old son as his mother told him that Daddy would not be coming home this time, or ever. It gave me personal reason and purpose to visit Arlington National Cemetery, every time I passed through Washington, D.C.
It also gave me anger unexpressed in dealing with those losses. It made me less flexible in my personal life. It, and the years and tasks that followed, made me work harder and harder, all the time, to be ready and to be able to perform those jobs that I had taken unto myself. It hardened me into a shell that I will spend the next few years escaping.
When looking back on something, it is natural to consider not only the event, but what might have been had it not occurred. I really don’t know how my life or career would have gone without it. At this point, it is truly hard to remember back, to see the world and my future as I saw it with pre-9/11 eyes. I’m sure they were starry-eyed, naïve visions. I know I have been toughened and perhaps even jaded in the intervening years. So this 9/11, I plan to remember, to acknowledge, and then to reflect. Not on the sacrifices made, or on the losses; I keep them with me daily. Rather, I choose to try to find the vision of a future I had before.
I want to recapture that viewpoint, and perhaps find my way back to it. Nothing can change the past, the gained and lost things of the last 13 years. But perhaps the new lenses with which I view the world could stand to gaze on a more hopeful, naïve vision of what might have been. There were many goals on the horizon that were pushed to the side following that ugly gorgeous morning. Maybe there are still a few out there, waiting.
(Featured Image Courtesy: DVIDs. Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen from Special Boat Team 12, stationed at Naval Base Coronado, Calif., with the help of aviators from 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., conducted a Maritime External Air Transportation System training evolution in Moses Lake, Wash., May 21. MEATS is a way to move a watercraft from a point on land or water to somewhere else using an Army MH-47G Chinook helicopter. The crewmen rig the boat to the helicopter as it hovers above, and then climb a rope ladder to board the helicopter before moving to the final destination, where they will slide down a rope to the boat before the helicopter disconnects the hoist cables. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Prows, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)