Anniversary of 9/11 – An Army Mom’s Reflection

The flag in front of the Hillside Church at Sunday morning's service.

I attended a 9/11 memorial service Sunday morning at the Hillside Community Church in Bellwood, Pennsylvania.  A large American flag hung from two extended fire truck ladders on the street in front of the church where first responders and service members formed a line to greet folks entering the service.

Tears filled my eyes during the first song, “This is America”, and continued as I stood—hand over my heart—and recited the pledge of allegiance, then sang our national anthem.  I could no longer fight back the tears as the trumpeters played “Taps” to honor those who’ve died fighting the war on terror since 9/11.

People across the country spent this weekend remembering where they were on 9/11/2001 and most can recall the exact moment when they heard the news.   As I reflected on the events of that day my thoughts focused on how different my life is now—as the mother of a soldier and how personal this war has become to me.  I had no idea in 2001 that my son would enlist in the Army and ten years later be serving his third tour in a war zone, or, that I would be the co-founder of Military Families Ministry and have the honor of supporting other military families.

The duffel bags at Fort Carson on June 11, 2011 - the day Tracie's son left on his third deployment.

9/11 is much more than a tragic day in our nation’s history—it is the beginning of a decade long war that has placed an incredible responsibility on our nation’s Armed Forces.  There are many individuals who carry the burden of defending freedom for every American citizen; the fallen heroes who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice, the wounded warriors whose struggles continue, the veterans suffering with PTSD, those still fighting to defend our freedom, and the families who love each of them.

A perfect depiction of the ongoing effects of 9/11 is the duffel bags lined up at Fort Carson the day my son left for Afghanistan—a sight that has become a common occurrence over the past ten years.  I fear the full impact of that horrible day may not be known for many years.

A Seminary Student, Now an Army Mom Reflects on 9/11

The new second lieutenants, family and friends. L-R: Phil Warner, 2LT Brian Papke, 2LT Nelson Lalli, SFC Keith Polidoro, Dorie Griggs, Chelle Leary. photo by Stanley Leary.

10 years ago on September 11, 2001 I was supposed to be serving on jury duty.  As a full-time seminary student my service that day was differed and I attended class instead.  It was a World Missions class.  After class ended I headed to the chapel like many of my fellow students did every morning for the daily chapel service.

When I arrived outside the chapel, I saw a group gathering.  It isn’t unusual to see something different outside the chapel.  I just assumed we were going to process in together.  As I got closer I realized this gathering focused their attention on a TV screen. The first tower of the World Trade Center had been hit. My fellow seminarians stood around in shock, a scene that was repeated in various forms around the world that day.

Today, 10 years later, about 11 of my oldest sons classmates report to Ranger School at Ft. Benning.  They have completed their training in Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course. These young men were in Middle School on September 11, 2001. I imagine some decided that day ten years ago that they would serve their country.

In four weeks my oldest son will graduate from Armor Basic Officer Leader Course then three weeks later report to Ranger School.

10 years ago while standing in front of that television set on the campus of Columbia Theological Seminary, I couldn’t have imagined how the following ten years would unfold.  I was about to start a year-long unit of Clinical Pastoral Education.  My focus was on developing a model of chaplaincy to journalists who cover traumatic events.

I knew through my journalist friends that they, like other first responders, saw and experienced trauma up close.  I also knew then, as I do now, unlike firefighters, police EMS and other first responders journalists do not get the same training or support the others have.  My call to be a supportive presence to journalists who risk their safety to keep us informed was formed leading up to and including the 2001 – 2002 school year.

Dorie Griggs with Dart Center Ochberg Fellows, Mike Walter, John McCusker, Moni Basu at the screening of Mike Walter’s documentary, “Breaking News, Breaking Down.” photo by Stanley Leary.

Since 2001, I have had the opportunity to meet and be mentored by some of the leading researchers in the area of traumatic stress studies. The Rosalyn Carter Mental Health Journalism Program have afforded me tremendous opportunities to meet and learn from scholars and researchers in the area of traumatic stress. The leadership of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma has taught me a great deal about the trials journalists go through.  I’ve had the privilege to also learn from and listen to the struggles of journalists who have covered some of the world’s worst disasters, both natural and man-made.

A few of these journalists were there at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon the morning of 9/11/01. Photojournalist David Handschuh was at the foot of the WTC when it began to collapse.  He was seriously injured that day.  Mike Walter was on his way to the DC TV station, where he served as an anchor, when a plane hit the Pentagon. Both journalists are fellows with the Dart Center and members of the Dart Society.  I am grateful to them for sharing their personal stories.

I am still on the journey to be a supportive presence to journalists. My call has expanded to also teach civilians about traumatic stress and how to be supportive to our returning veterans. I now serve on the board of directors for the nonprofit, Care For The Troops.

10 years ago standing in front of that TV on the seminary campus I could not have predicted the wide variety of journalists I would come to know both in the US and abroad.  I could not imagine that my then 12-year-old son and his friends from The Citadel would be second lieutenants training with the U.S Army Rangers, or that I’d even know what that training entails.

I am grateful to the many people who have seen the importance of this call to be a supportive presence to journalists and also to the members of the military and veterans.

Former College Student, Now Army Wife After 9/11: I Get It …

The Dorr family when Jackie's husband returned from his fourth deployment in their five years of marriage.

Today is September 11, 2011. Ten years ago I was standing in my dorm room at the University of Florida, getting ready for my first class of the day, with the Today Show on in the background. I watched in disbelief as the first plane flew into the first tower. Like many Americans my first reaction was to pick up the phone and call someone, I called my mom. She was equally as shocked. Then there it was, a second plane. It’s a day my children will learn about in history class years from now, much like Pearl Harbor Day, yet they will never grasp the immense devastation this nation felt.

My father was still active duty at the time, and my family lived on Keesler AFB, a mere six hour drive from UF. My brother was still in high school, and he described that September day to me once I came back for a visit. School buses were stopped at the gates in backed up traffic, students were being checked for ID cards. Armed airmen patrolled the neighborhood by foot, etc.

Knowing that war was inevitable, I had made a decision that I wouldn’t ever marry anyone in the military. The future was uncertain, but one thing I think most people knew was that this wouldn’t be a quick fight, it would last a while.

My husband enlisted into the delayed entry program in 2002, a few years before we met. So here I am in a life I swore I wouldn’t live, raising children with a soldier, realizing that it is mission first. Being around the military changes your perspective on things, and last night couldn’t make that more clear.

Last night was date night, so Brian took me to the movies. I got dressed up, as did he and we made our way to the now outrageously overpriced movie theater. We had already decided weeks ago that we wanted to see “warrior”.

The main character is a Marine, and we find out later in the movie he deserted his unit in Iraq after being the only survivor of a friendly fire attack. The actual movie was naturally more drawn out and much more dramatic than that tiny snippet but that part resonated in my head. When you hear deserter you get mad, one thinks of a coward, traitor…. Right?

Paisley Dorr holding her and her sister's Daddy Dolls as she waits for her Daddy to come home March 2011.

I felt for him, on the drive home Brian and I discussed it, we understood it, did we think it was okay? No, of course not, but we got it. It reminded me on some level of a time when Brian was heading back after his R & R and there was a soldier who was catching a flight, but was meant to catch one on the previous day. I struck up conversation with him, while we stood in line at security. His family clung to him, much like I was clinging to Brian. I asked why he had missed his flight the day before, and he began to tell me how it was intentional.

He had contemplated deserting, never returning, it was his fourth deployment and he was tired. His sense kicked in, realizing the punishment wouldn’t get him what he wanted either, which was to be with his family, watch his children grow, be with his wife day in and day out. I find myself wondering what happened to him, and remember the feeling of shock at the time as I heard his story, but now….. I get it.

Someday children will read about all of this in history books, much like I read about WWI, WWII, and Vietnam. However, history books can never capture the human life experience that is living it. A history book won’t make someone say “I get it…’

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