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.

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…’

U.S. Military Continues to Pay the Price for 9/11 Attacks

Members of the CENTCOM staff salute during the singing of the National Anthem.

Under a cloud dappled sky at the U.S. Central Command Memorial on Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base – a brief remembrance was held Friday for those lost during the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Civilians, first responders, firefighters were remembered along with the men and women of the military who continue to fight overseas long after the smoke has cleared from the Twin Towers, Pentagon and Pennsylvania field.

Some of the honored guests included a few of the doctors from James A. Haley VA Medical Center and members of the CENTCOM Coalition Force.

Most in attendance were men and women in uniform who stood throughout the brief ceremony.

It is they, those wearing the uniform, said CENTCOM Commander Gen. James Mattis, who continue to pay the price of 9-11. He called Al Qaeda an enemy that attacked more than New York City – but also Bali and Moscow – London and Madrid.

CENTCOM Commander Gen. James Mattis pledges to continue the fight for those lost on 9/11.

“It’s an enemy of all civilized people everywhere and an enemy who thought by hurting us on 9-11 he could scare us,” Mattis said. “And with the Americans, he was not aware of the descendents of Valley Forge, of Shiloh, of Midway and Normandy, of Ploiesti and Iwo Jima, Vietnam and more are not made of cotton candy.”

His remarks were brief, but Gen. Mattis reminded his troops that they must, “pledge to fight for enlightenment and tolerance and fight tyranny to the last full measure. The losses of our fellow citizens from so many nations only remind us that the innocents on 9-11 our stalwart brothers and sisters in uniform since who we’ve lost have only made us more determined.”

How the 9/11 Attacks Changed U.S. Central Command

U.S. Central Command's older headquarters building at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL. Photo courtesy of U.S. military website.

This Friday, U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa will hold a small 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony. U.S. Marine Corps General James Mattis, Commander U.S. Central Command, will give brief remarks to honor those lost on that day, first responders, emergency workers and service members who have served since 9-11 and continue to fight in the war against terrorism.

Recently, I talked with a member of CENTCOM about the changes he’s seen since the terrorism attacks 10 years ago.

The day of the Sept. 11 attacks,  Army Col. Jack Dees was with a small CENTCOM delegation in Cairo.

Dees is now a civilian and Deputy Chief with the Security Cooperation Division at CENTCOM. He talked with me about the big changes he’s witnessed at the joint command which is responsible for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He starts with what the headquarters in Tampa was like when he got back from Egypt a few days after the attacks.

JACK DEES: Chaos, it was just chaos. I mean (when) I’d left it was the quietest place on the planet. Getting through the gate was a nightmare. It was just a real mess and people were working 24 hours shifts and everybody was trying to scramble to figure out what was going to happen because nobody really knew where this was going, how it was going to unfold. We just knew we were at war. (It was) a scene of enormous energy, but a nervous anticipation about what was going to happen over the next few months.

BOB: Describe what the essence was like when you see your country under attack and you’re a half-a-world away.

JD: I can distinctly remember from that drive from Dover – I kept thinking: Is America changed? I was really nervous to see what people were going to be like. I kind of had the view that people might be hunkered down and everybody be so afraid. But, I got back and I was – in a way I was kind of grateful to see – you know I mean – life had gone on. I mean things were changed but people were still doing what they normally did.

I have to tell you a funny story. The sergeant who was driving with us, she got pulled over outside Fayetteville, NC for doing like 86 in a 70 mile-an-hour zone. A North Carolina state trooper he came up to us and said, “License and registration.” And I leaned over and I said, “Look officer, I’m military, a colonel in the Army, you’ve got a commander in the Navy,  and an NCO. We’re all trying to get back to base, MacDill Air Force Base. I apologize, I won’t let this happen again. I take responsibility.” He said a few words and he said, “Okay, we’ll let this go. Just do me one favor, go kick some butt.” It isn’t exactly the words he used, and ah he said “just go kick some butt for me.” I guess he’d just gotten out of the 82nd Airborne Division.

BOB: What about CENTCOM itself? When did the realization hit that CENTCOM is going to change and never be the same that this is going to end up at your doorstep?

JD: That was clear the next day, I wasn’t here, when people spent three hours getting through the gate. I mean there was – as I understood it – people came into work at 7 and got on the base about 10 o’clock because of increased security. Immediately that was recognizable. And within just a handful of days, all sorts of people started showing up here to help us out because it was obvious that Afghanistan being the center of what was happening – Afghanistan being part of the CENTCOM area of responsibility – it was obvious that we were going to be the central part of all of this.

And of course the headquarters was manned for peacetime, really. We had a small military effort ongoing – you recall the “no fly zone” in Iraq. But, we weren’t on a wartime footing at all. Within about a week, people started flowing in here from everywhere Department of Defense planners, logisticians, intell analysts, as we began to plan for what would be the first bombs dropped in Afghanistan Oct. 7th.

BOB: You remember that day?

JD: I do remember that day. I was here. We watched it on TV.

BOB: Did you feel like that’s when you all started to “kick butt?”

JD: The first bomb didn’t drop without a lot of work that went on before that. And my friends who were doing the planning business were working 20 hours a day and they did that for months on end until probably January or February, March of 2002.

BOB: How has CENTCOM changed?

JD: CENTCOM is nothing like it was before. There’s no comparison today to what it was in those days. The headquarters is huge, much, much, much bigger than it was before. Getting in the gate – you know we just drove through the gate in those days you just had a pass on your car and they waved you through. Today, it’s ID checks and the security is significantly more so.

There’s a lot more civilians at the headquarters. The headquarters those days were largely military. There was probably 20-30 civilians is all that worked in the headquarters and today it’s a much bigger headquarters in that way largely because of continuity, for continuity’s sake and ensuring people kind of understood what happened before. Our facilities have improved. You see we’ve got the new buildings up there. We had to – to accommodate the increased personnel.

An important point to make, most people that are here have been in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most people have done their combat tours over there and then a lot of us have lost friends or know someone who has been lost in combat operations. You know and that always weighs on the back of everybody’s mind. I didn’t know anybody personally, but I’ve had three close friends who have lost sons in Iraq and another real close friend of mine whose son was badly injured in Afghanistan, a couple of people I knew that were badly wounded in Iraq. It’s something always in the back of our minds.

BOB: That obviously changes people. You see your friends change. How have you changed from 9/11?

JD: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I hadn’t even thought about that. I don’t think I’ve changed. The nation has changed, obviously, mostly for good. We’ll never be the same and neither will the military. That’s another piece of this too, the military has changed so much. The Army I grew up in was really a peacetime Army. We had our combat operations, the first war in Iraq, Grenada, but we’ve been at war – the military’s been at war – 10 years now.

And, you don’t run into a soldier who hasn’t been in a combat zone. You don’t run into anybody who hasn’t been under fire. These young guys that I see today, these majors that work for me out there today, a whole different breed of people than it was than we had in the Army when I was a major – a completely different world, a completely different military.

MacDill Air Force Base Marks an Early Memorial Day

MacDill Air Force Base personnel remembered their fallen comrades during an early Memorial Day ceremony.

By Alex Cook

Memorial Day isn’t until Monday, but members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marines held a ceremony on MacDill Air Force Base Thursday honoring those who have died serving their country.

The mood was somber as the military formation gathered under the American flag. A 21-gun salute pierced the silence, followed by a lone bugler playing Taps.

Colonel Lenny Richoux, commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing, led the tribute by presenting a wreath in honor of those who gave their lives for their country.

“All who have worn the uniform know we swear to support and defend the Constitution and we’ll pay the ultimate price – make the ultimate sacrifice,” said Richoux during his speech. “These great Americans and thousands like them who heard the calling of their nation gave all they had so that we can enjoy this beautiful day in Tampa Bay in the great state of Florida, in these United States, the greatest nation on the planet.”

A steel beam salvaged from the World Trade Center sat on display as a reminder of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have claimed the lives of almost 6000 service members over the last decade.

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