I’m almost certain my 9.11 was different from yours. For those in the States at the time, the attacks happened between 8:46 and 10:03 AM EST. Most were awake. I was in bed sleeping. I was nineteen years old, and a month into my very first duty assignment as a Real American Hero, Camp Red Cloud, Uijongbu, South Korea. It was around midnight for me. I was awakened by the soldiers on duty banging on every door, telling us the base was on alert and that the company commander would be addressing us soon. If you think it’s alright to smile a little on a day like this, imagine wet-behind-the-ears PV2 Crisler slamming down three flights of stairs in full gear with 100 pounds of shit on his back, only to encounter the rest of the company standing in line in their pajamas. It was only a sign-in alert. I’d gotten ready in two minutes flat.
The next six months were real freakin’ crazy. Just not the same sort of crazy you were dealing with back home. We were always on alert, security was stronger, we did more drills and exercises. I wasn’t in the pre-War Army for very long (Clinton was still President when I joined, but Bush had been elected), but it was long enough to know things had changed for good. I was insulated, though. I wasn’t in the States again until August of the following year. By the time the one-year anniversary rolled around, I was just pulling into my new assignment at Fort Hood, Texas. Until then, though, what happened to my country, my military, my friends and family always seemed a bit unreal. Until then.
A year and a half after arriving at Fort Hood, I deployed for the first of three times to date; this time, to Iraq. We replaced the original invasion force. Now this was something different from what I’d known over the previous four years. Since then I’ve convoyed across deserts, pointed loaded guns at fellow human beings (and taught others to do the same), and seen brains reduced to the consistency and texture of aerosol. I’ve also seen happy people on once-empty streets, children going to school for the first time in their lives and villages rebuilding better than they were before. It’s a mixed bag, this War on Terror.
From a personal perspective (and keep in mind, this is first and foremost a writer’s blog, not a soldier’s), I can say that my career as an author is rooted in the events of September 11. I started writing for publication during my second deployment (Afghanistan) after being frustrated over the amount of personal time I wasted on bullshit while deployed to Iraq. The bulk of my published work as an author and editor was planned and written while on various deployments, though that ratio is changing these days. I can find the bright side to a horrible time in our history, maybe because I was insulated at the beginning. Maybe it’s because I learned to make the bad count for good while deployed.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d be Lincoln Crisler: Dog Crap Picker-Upper for life if it’d undo the last ten years. And a small-press author is a small wheel in the spinning cogs of the universe. But while we’re thinking about everything we lost on 9-11: the airplane victims, the people in the Trade Center and Pentagon, the first-responders who died during rescue efforts, the soldiers and civilians lost in the wars, let’s think about something else. Lets think about the heroism and goodness and even creativity that’s been brought about due to the attacks and their aftermath that would never have come about otherwise.
The investment banker turned tango dancer who’s now expecting twins with his girlfriend. The living Medal of Honor recipients from the War on Terror that will not only inspire their comrades but be able to grow, learn and lead from the front (here are three). The construction worker rebuilding Ground Zero in honor of his brother, a fallen firefighter. Would some of this have been unnecessary without the attacks? Certainly. But are we stronger because of these people now than we were on 9.12.01? Absolutely. Would some of these people not be as strong today without the catalyst of tragedy? I think so. Lets celebrate our steps forward at the same time we remember our lost.
I’ve only listed a few. Feel free to list more in the comments, and of course, discuss.