At this point, you’re social media feeds have been packed with #NeverForget, #NeverAgain, #AlwaysRemember, and American flags all day long. Good! Events like September 11, 2001 should not be forgotten for fear of history repeating itself. Anyone who thinks the evil of this world is suddenly going to throw their hands up and quit preying on the innocent is a bit naive.
I am writing this post while flying from Portland to Los Angeles then to Albuquerque on an American Airline’s plane. I’ve seen a number of threads on social media asking “Where were you when…” or “What were you doing when…” and it felt appropriate to share in a post written while flying.
At the time of the attacks, I lived in Midland Texas and was a stereotypical rebellious “goth” teenager. I made a point to play devil’s advocate whenever possible and bucked against the establishment simply to test boundaries. I balked at the military and shared my far-left anti-establishment politics with anyone around me (whether they wanted to listen or not). I was a senior in high school and felt more than ready to take on the world.
On the morning of September 11, 2001 I found myself in bowling class (yes, bowling class, the alternative to traditional P.E. – because, goth). We had just arrived at the bowling alley when the second plane hit the South Tower. The class took notice and paused all conversation, trying to figure out what movie the alley was playing. It only took a few seconds to realize it was all too real.
No one rolled a ball that day; no cheers for a strike; no smiles could be found on the two dozen kids in that class nor the three adults who worked at the lanes. Any talking was hushed whispers as all eyes were glued to the television screens which normally showed repeats of past bowling tournaments and advertisements for bad nachos and over-sweet sodas. Life felt like it had stopped.
It was fairly obvious to me that the world changed that morning. America wouldn’t be the same, the world wouldn’t be the same, , my generation wouldn’t be the same, I wouldn’t be the same. Having grown up in relative peace (all American conflicts had been low-grade combat operations that hadn’t lasted all that long – the Gulf War being the exception), I knew it wasn’t impossible for a full-scale war to occur in my lifetime, but it did seem unlikely until that morning.
At the appointed time (after all civilian air traffic was grounded, the Pentagon had been hit, and Flight 93 had crashed in Pennsylvania), we all loaded the bus and returned to school. I remember going to my parked truck instead of my next class and another student walking by and asking “Why you pissed off?” I couldn’t believe it, I wanted to ask him “Why aren’t you pissed off?” I couldn’t really reply other than to tell him to watch the news.
I left school shortly thereafter.
The attacks of September 11th weren’t a primary influence in my decision to join the Army nor did I suddenly hate all Muslims or form a negative opinion of an entire region because of the actions of a few, but, I can say it helped push me to be an Infantryman. Male pride and ego played into this decision as well, but knowing that we were attacked as a nation that day sure didn’t hurt my motivations.
I can only hope that we, as a country, never have to experience an event like this again; however, history is bound to repeat itself when we forget the lessons we have learned in the past.
Where were you? What were you doing? How did you respond to these attacks?
A question I used to get asked a lot was “why did you join the army?” Over the years my answer has evolved into a succinct one liner: I didn’t have a lot of options and the army seemed like the best thing to do at the time. However, this is only a small part of the truth. The real answer is a bit more complex than my default response.
In February 2002, I decided to move out of my parent’s house in the middle of the night after a verbal altercation with my step-dad. I was 18 years old and thought I knew everything I needed to know about the real world. Within the course of the following month I bounced around from one friend’s couch to another, quit my job, and dropped out of high school. That final point was a sticking point for me since I had a perfect GPA and, by all accounts, was on a fast track to a four year degree. My life was falling apart before I really got it started.
Some time in March I found myself in my best friend’s house with her then husband and his family. The days were short and the nights were long as I tried to figure out what I was going to do next. How was I going to support myself? What could be done about my destroyed education? Why had I taken such a menial dispute with my step-dad so seriously? Had I ruined my life?
While drinking Smirnoff Ice (yeah, there’s a blast from the past for all of you) one night, I listed out my potential options:
Work a dead end job while working to get my GED and hope to make it through community college within the next 5 years.
Get my GED and apply to the local police academy with fingers crossed.
Get my GED, join the army, serve the minimum number of required years, walkaway with the GI Bill, and forget it ever happened.
That same night I talked it over with a small group of friends. This resulted in the immediate dismissal of the police academy since I would have to arrest all of them for a variety of charges. The appeal of working a dead end job never sat well with me so I crossed that off the list. This left the Army. This left an organization I had protested against throughout my rebellious teenage years for a number of reasons.
The next day, I went to the local recruiting station in Midland, Texas. The attacks of 9/11 were very fresh in everyone’s minds and the war in Afghanistan was still being fought primarily by irregular forces supplied by Special Forces and the CIA. Recruiters were hard pressed to meet their quotas but the graduating class of 2002 hadn’t finished high school yet so the recruiters were under pressure. I walked into the office dressed in all black, wallet chain, and spiked hair – likely the picture of a problem child. Three pairs of eyes quickly settled on me and almost immediately rolled into the back of their owner’s heads.
“How can I help you?” one of them asked without standing up.
“Yeah, where do I sign?” was my slightly enthusiastic response.
Three grown men nearly climbed over their desks to be the first to reach me, apparently Midland wasn’t supplying them with enough interested bodies to meet their quotas.
“Come here son,” said a gruff voice from the back of the office. The Sergeant First Class in charge of the recruiting office was standing in front of the only closed room in the space.
I grinned (as I often did back then) and headed back to the mid-30 something man holding his office’s door open. The room was cramped, but I took a seat without it being offered. Arrogance masked as confidence. I knew I needed the Army as much as it needed me at that moment, but it didn’t deflate my ego one bit.
“What’s wrong with you?” the SFC asked.
Taken aback by the direct question, I hesitated, before sheepishly responding, “I don’t have a diploma…but I’m getting my GED as soon as possible.”
He simply nodded, picked up the phone, and scheduled an appointment for me with a local charter school. At no cost to me, the charter school evaluated my school records and determined what would be needed for them to issue me a diploma. Within a week I had graduated from high school.
Throughout the recruiting process I maintained that I would only go in as infantry. At the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), the officer in charge of my first contract offered me an Intelligence Analyst Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) with a signing bonus, secret clearance, duty station of choice, and 4 year contract, but I stuck to my guns. If I was going to serve in the Army, I was going to fight. I was going to do the most difficult job in the entire organization to prove to myself and others that I could do it. Pride stood in the way of what would have been a more beneficial job once I gout out of the Army.
In the end, I got what I wanted: a 3-year contract as an 11X (unassigned infantry MOS – assignment occurs during One Station Unit Training OSUT) with no duty station of choice, clearance, or signing bonus. I couldn’t be happier at the time. I was proud that I stuck to my guns for the job I thought I wanted. I stuck it to the man!
However, my mindset had yet to change towards the Army as an organization. I was convinced I would serve my 3 years, get out, and forget it ever happened. Remember, this was a year before Operation Iraqi Freedom began so the chances of seeing combat were minimal at best.
Fast forward one year and I am soon to be promoted to PFC (E-3, Private First Class) while stationed in Korea. I would soon earn my Expert Infantryman’s Badge (EIB) and was the model of a young soldier. It was likely that people thought I was born in the uniform since I never seemed to take it off.
Sometime in Basic Training I decided I liked the Army. It was structured, disciplined, rigid yet flexible, and rewarded results instead of effort. The core functions of the infantry job made sense to me (close with the enemy and destroy them) and I found I was fairly good at all of them. I was hooked and happy for it.
During my leave after Basic Training I had decided I wanted to accomplish three things in the three years I was planning on being in the Army (yeah, still hadn’t adjusted that target):
Become a Non-Commissioned Officer
Attend and graduate Sniper School
I ended up accomplishing two of the three goals in my first three years in the Army and letting go of the dream for Sniper School over the next few years. Once I experienced combat it was all I felt I needed in my life – but that’s a series of posts for later.
I reveled in the physical pain of the training. I longed for the mental and emotional roller coaster of training and, later, combat. I was able to push myself without boundaries. I was pushed to the edge by my leadership and fellow soldiers. Everyday was a challenge. Everyday proved I could do more than the day before.
Over the years in the wet woods of Korea, dry desert of Iraq, and army-friendly Clarksville, my opinions of the Army changed. I loved the Army. I loved the infantry. I loved the experience I gained at such a young age. I loved the soldiers I was responsible for training and leading into combat. There was nothing more important than the soldiers I led – nothing.
I learned and experienced the brotherhood of the Army infantry. I lived for it.
Six years was shorter than I intended to stay in the service, but it was long enough to know I will likely never find anything else that is as fulfilling as the Army was for me.
Did you serve in the military? Why did you join? Why did you stay in or get out? Leave it all in the comments and don’t forget to like, share, and follow this blog!
In pursuit of accomplishing my goals for the year, I took a little walk around downtown Albuquerque. I took a quick look at the building my dad worked in during the ’80s and ’90s, looked at the playground equipment they are installing on the Plaza, and a historic placard affixed to the Galleria building. It got me thinking about how things change in so few years while still triggering memories of otherwise forgotten times.
I, like everyone else, cannot foresee the future so the title of this post is a bit of an assumption. The optimist in me says I am still less than halfway through the total number of years I will be alive. However, as I have learned in the first 34 years, there is no guarantee this will end up being true. Morbid, right? I like to think of it as more practical than pessimistic.
Thinking in these terms reminds me to be thankful for the time I have had and to live each day with purpose. I don’t buy into the concept of “living each day as if it were my last” since this would inevitably lead to some bad decisions worth avoiding. Living with purpose means a majority of my actions are driving towards identified goals and objectives. My Goals for 2018 have been documented on this blog and I am working on a new page for my Bucket List (so check back often to see it). This is how I guide my actions in a purposeful manner, I recommend a similar approach for everyone!
Today is my 34th birthday (as mentioned in the post immediately prior to this one) and I want to take a moment to reflect on my life thus far. I have not followed a “normal” or “safe” path through life. Many people would look at the overview of my life and say, “wow, that sounds <insert exciting adjective>”. For me, it has merely been my life.
Here are some of the historic moments that influenced my life:
September 11, 2001 – This date has defined the part of my generation born in the 1980s. Many of us joined the military and served our country in response to the attacks that occurred on this day. It will likely be regarded by historians as the defining moment of the 21st century – at least, until the next high-profile, conflict initiating event in the world.
The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – In response to the attacks on 9/11/2001, the United States, under the leadership of President George W. Bush, declared war against Afghanistan (the home of the Taliban government that provided safe haven to Al Qaeda, the group responsible for the attacks) and, later, Iraq.
Revelations of the False Pretenses for Declaring War on Iraq – This was not a defining moment necessarily, but it opened the eyes of a patriotic generation. The guise of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and affiliation (or complacency) with Al Qaeda were burned down years into a war that I participated in.
The Election of the First Black President – The election of President Barack Hussein Obama (and his subsequent reelection) shocked the world for all the wrong reasons. He was a freshman congressman with limited national experience, but a wealth of good judgement and a high intelligence in conjunction with a charming personality and great rhetoric led to his historic win over John McCain, a Vietnam Veteran, POW, and seasoned political figure.
The Great Recession – Right about the time I was booted out of the Army (for being gay), the US economy crashed causing high unemployment and a lack of opportunities for the masses. It took years for this to be corrected (and some would say we are still working on pulling ourselves up) but shone a light on the house of cards that was the housing market – similar to the .com bubble that burst in 1999 and 2000.
The Technology Revolution – Many will say this revolution started prior to my birth, but it sure culminated from the 1990s to present. Smart phones, augmented reality, virtual reality, genetic engineering, leaps and bounds of forward momentum on personal computing devices, wearable smart tech, social media platforms, online existence, etc. all came to fruition in the past 15 years. It has truly been an incredible time to be alive.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Put in Place and Subsequently Repealed (a little too late) – This is more of a personal historic moment for me given the impact on my life that DADT ended up playing. I was a part of the thousands of Army personnel discharged under this policy. It took away one of the lives I thought I was supposed to have – serving in an Army that I would have gladly given my life for many times over.
Obviously, I could go on and on listing the historic moments that happened in my life so far, but those are the ones that stand out to me while I write this post. I think it says a lot about me that these are the items that highlight themselves. Conflict and challenge, loss and love, evolution of the way we live.
My goals this year are my purpose through my 34th year of life. I will work everyday to accomplish or surpass these goals.
What historic events do you remember being influential in your life? Did these events guide you down an unexpected path? Do you think you have seen your last major historical event?