Liberty Just in Case

A Dialogue for the September 12th World

It was a Tuesday morning

Posted by zaphriel on September 11, 2005

It was a Tuesday morning after a guard drill, so for me it was the first day of my workweek. Because we lived relatively close to work, I was riding my mountain bike into work, as a way to keep fit and try to loose weight. It was chilly, about 50 degrees, a normal fall morning in this part of the country. I sped past the guard at the gate, he was a friend of mine, I knew he recognized me and I really didn’t feel like stopping that day (it is so hard to get going again from a dead stop). Only later would I realize that he was trying to stop me, to tell me what had happened, but he was still in too much shock really to react.
I peddled to my building and locked up my bike. It was early still, only Charlie was at work already, but he was always there early, he liked to make the coffee and get in a little news before anyone else got there. (Boy do I miss him, Charlie Died last year). As I walked in, helmet in hand, Charlie said in his mumbled Texan accent “Ya know someone just crashed a plane into one of those World Trade Center buildin’s.? “You mean like the plane that hit the Empire State building?? I said. “Yep,? he said. “HMM,? I thought. Interesting but not really alarming, so I changed into my uniform, sat down at my computer, and turned on my radio. The usual banter was not there, The Rob Arnie and Dawn show was normally jovial and jocular, but that day it was replaced with a very somber and almost panicked tone. “Two airliners have been crashed by unknown individuals or groups of individuals into the World Trade Center towers,? came the somber and controlled voice. A normally calm and collected individual, the morning DJ was choking back his emotions, and trying with every fiber of his being to remain calm.This sent alarms off in my head. OH MY GOD, it wasn’t just a small plane that happened to go wayward, it was a big plane, and not one but TWO, we were under attack. I went into OH CRAP mode.

You see I work on a small base attached to an airport, one of several possible targets, of course that day everything was a possible target, wasn’t it.

I work in Military Intel, how did I not hear about anything like this? We usually get warnings of things like these being planned, this time…nothing. I’d never even heard of this tactic. It was my job to protect this nation, and I was helpless. We went into a flurry, trying to find something, anything that explained what was happening. Nothing, there was nothing.

As everybody started to filter into work, the TV lit up with the news channels, and we watched, morbidly, helplessly, as they fell, as thousands died. It felt a world away, and yet it felt like it was right next-door. I swore I could feel the rumble. Every noise brought panic. Like many others I went from sadness, to helplessness, to rage, and back around again. I could do nothing; there was nothing to do, not then, not for what seemed like way too long. It would be October before the first orders for us came down.

The waiting for orders was the worst. Wanting to do something, but not being allowed to, was excruciating. Sitting and preparing. Checking and rechecking. Brushing up on long lost skills. Preparing your family and your life for what you knew was going to be a long deployment, but not knowing when or where that deployment would come. Making out will, getting finances in order, preparing for war.

That Tuesday was the day the last of my innocence died.

Until then I was just some kid, even at 27, I was still a kid, who had not known true hate or the need for vengeance. The coming years and events would change who I was, shake me to my very core. 9/11 would just be the first step, the day that who I was died, and who I would become was born.

……

In late September, 2001, as we were recovering from the shock of everything that had happened over the previous weeks, I felt all the helplessness, the panic. Stories, more and more stories continued to poor out of ground zero. One that struck me as interesting, and that showed some hope in all of the confusion, was the WTC Cross. It could be said that it was just debris. And that is a distinct possibility, but the hope I felt in seeing it, helped me through the days, weeks, months, and years of deployments ahead. It was just a coincidence to some, but to me, it reminded me to Never Forget. Never forget my faith and never forget who I am and what I am here to do. During my deployments I would see photographs of the towers and reminders of the attacks, and I would feel the pain, and then I would remember the cross in the rubble, and I would start to feel hope once again. Forgive, but Never Forget.

……

My first deployment after the 9/11 attacks was to Germany. I was lucky, I got to do my job, far from the front, but I was reminded everyday of what was at stake as each day a new transport came in bearing the flag draped coffins of my fallen comrades. It was a real eye opener. I was glad to have my faith to get me through it. <p>But I noticed over and over again all the little differences between Europe and America, everywhere I went. In Germany, EVERY Christian and government holiday is observed. In fact May has so many, that they joke about when their next day “on” is, rather than their next day “off”. Everyone closes their shops and businesses (except the restaurants) and they celebrate the holiday. It is expected, to do otherwise is unheard of.
The first thing that came to my mind when I first encountered this was, “This would never go over well in America, no shopping on a holiday? Isn’t that what holiday’s are for?” The people there think nothing of it, they know no other way, and there is no use in complaining, all they will say is, “well that’s the way it is”.

……

A few months after I came back from Germany, I was called to another front of the Global War on Terrorism. One that not many people are aware of, one that the mainstream media tends to neglect.

Colombia is a beautiful country, with tall green mountains, and lush farmland. But they have a problem; they have a civil war that has been raging for at least a generation. Over time wars change and interests and tactics change. At first the Rebels were Communist, funded by Russia. When the Soviet Union fell, the Rebels turned to the Cartels for help, and they got into the drug trade. Eventually however the will of the Colombian people started to win out, so the rebels once again changed tactics, and started to use guerrilla tactics and terrorism as tools. So now we are there, assisting the Colombians in their fight to stem the flow of drugs and to combat terrorism.

What I was impressed by in Colombia however, were the people. They are resilient, they have faith and hope. Every Sunday the little makeshift church next to the runway was full. They prayed together and celebrated life, even though they have little to celebrate. They hope and pray everyday that they will once again see peace, all the while knowing that any some of them may not come home that night.

I saw their hope and their faith, that was so strong, and it gave me hope. It showed me that with faith, anything could be endured, and hopefully one day, we will also know peace from the scourge we now face. With faith, anything is possible.

……

In Northern Iraq it was rather temperate, usually in the 70’s and 80’s, and cooler at night. Even with all the gear we had to wear , flack jacket, helmet, water pack, etc., it was usually quite comfortable.(and no, even here, they didn’t let us have guns, not that they would have helped where we were.). The real threat here was from mortar attacks. They usually happened daily around 6pm, on the far side of the compound. After a while you got used to the sounds and you could tell whether a boom was incoming or outgoing.

This day however it was unusually hot, and as normal I walked from my tent to my duty area, it was good exercise, and the office was not far away. By the time I got inside I was soak all the way through my DCU top, leaving a funny little dry spot where my cross and dog tags had been under my body armor. We were inside so I took off my armor, it was easier to move in the tight quarters without it on. We had gotten busy, and I had lost track of time. I looked at my watch and it was 7pm. I turned to the Airman beside me and said, “It’s hot, they must be taking the night off”, referring to the insurgents who usually sent rockets our way.

Not very long after, the whole building rattled. I hit the floor, grabbing my armor on the way down. Usually there was only one, but we always put our armor on just in case. Just as I wrapped the first piece around me there was a second boom, this one noticeably closer. I quickly closed my vest and grabbed my helmet as I got to my feet and started running with everyone else to the bunker. I was near the back pulling along stragglers. Mid stride, there was the third one, BOOM, this time just the other side of a small hill. You could see the debris scatter, and the smoke start to rise. I was about 10 yards from the bunker, running faster still. Just as I tripped over some sandbags and dove into the bunker, the forth rocket hit, just the other side of the blast wall, shaking some gravel loose from the concrete walls.

I was terrified, I pulled out my cross, holding it I started to pray. I had a long conversation with God, as I am sure everyone else in the bunker did too. I don’t know how, but I started to see my life, and all the wonderful things that I just passed by every day. I saw all the things I had to live for, and all the things I missed about home. Then, in an indescribable way, one that I could only term as the touch of God, I felt calm, and safe. Before I knew it a half hour had passed. No more rockets. Later they finally sounded the all clear and I resumed my duties.

It took me months to absorb what had occurred. I had been spared, though everything I felt before I arrived told me I was never coming home. And in some ways, I didn’t, I was changed, no longer naïve, but touched by the hand of God. I will never forget that day, nor the faith it inspired within me.

……

Many things from my experiences would haunt me, from the dreams for airliners falling from the sky all around me, to the ever-present klaxons, which would later disturb my sleep. I will forever be haunted by the videos of Talibani justice on the soccer fields of Afghanistan, and the accounts of Ba’athist Justice in Iraq. Forever seared in my mind are the images of the beheading few civilians witness, to the real-time experiences of suicide attacks and random munitions fire. I am forever changed from the real-time ground truth of this war, and ever frustrated by my countryman’s short attention span. I pray for the day that we will know peace again, and I am dumfounded by our lack of resolve to see ourselves through. As long as we continue to fight from within, we will never prevail over the enemy at the door.

We must never forget that we are at war, a war we did not start, but a war that we must finish. Our very existence depends upon it.

September 11th Remembered

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