On a beautiful, early morning at Fort Hood, Texas, I was a young, newly-promoted Army Sergeant doing my job as an ammunition specialist. That day, I did as I usually did and met with the unit who was doing the ammunition pickup at the ammunition supply point. Our first stop was inside the office to deal with the paperwork.
In the office, there was a small break area attached. This area had a small television, two couches and a coffee table. There was also two vending machines to the side, if I remember correctly.
I would say that I may have visited this office maybe a few times a month. Each time I came by, there were usually maybe a few soldiers who would be waiting as they watched television in that break area. It was on whatever station and the mood was often pretty relaxed.
However, this day I came in, there was probably about twenty soldiers there and they were really into what was on the television. Naturally, I decided to see what they were watching.
I noticed that it was on the news and one of the World Trade Center towers had been hit. However, at the time, it looked like an accident. By the time I came in, there was that infamous shot of the smoke coming from the building. As the soldiers talked, many assumed it was nothing more than a pilot who made a terrible mistake or a plane that went down and into the tower. I still remember thinking that very thing and saying to myself, “Wow…that’s a pretty bad accident. Hope they’ll be able to put out this fire soon.” I was pretty certain there were casualties, and I felt horrible for them and their families. I basically just expected to them to get to work on putting the fire out and within an hour, they’d be on to the next news story.
I went and messed with the ammunition paperwork, stopped by the restroom and did a little of this and that. When I came back, everyone was still watching the television and talking. I thought, “Goodness, that must’ve been a pretty serious fire if they still haven’t put it out yet.” Just at that moment, we all saw the second plane hit the other tower.
At that point, the entire office fell into a dead silence. We all realized by that time that it was certainly NO accident.
We all just stared at the television for a while. I remember hearing the front door open and close, as none of us moved, still paralyzed from what we just saw.
An accident and it’s a little easier to move on from it. After all, we can all still feel bad and have sympathy, but there isn’t much that can be done at that point. However, when we saw that it was not an accident…I can’t speak for the other soldiers, but I knew that things had gotten way past serious.
Eventually, some of us moved about and tried to proceed with our day. Many remained at the television. After a while, I came back myself.
That’s when we saw both towers fall.
There was no question by then that a LOT of people were killed, and things were a mess, to say the least. To say the very least.
I didn’t even know what to think or what to say. I had no idea what the death tolls would look like, but I knew it would be massive. I could not even begin to imagine the hell that those people went through, not to mention those who were around it and survived, but also the loved ones of those who killed that day. It’s heartbreaking to think about them seeing that on the news and making those phone and cell phone calls, never to receive an answer.
Fort Hood was locked down, since at that time, it was unclear as to what was going on. By then, we also heard about Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. There was NO question; we were being attacked.
As the day went on, you could see it on the faces of soldiers all over; it was time to prepare ourselves for what was to come. No one knew what that was, but we knew it was coming.
Throughout the day, I received a few calls and e-mails from friends. One friend e-mailed to say that she loved me. Another friend called to ask what was going on. Her brother even got on the phone and asked the same question. That’s when it really hit me.
As a young soldier with a little more than four years of service at the time, I was still relatively young in my Army career as well, so I hadn’t yet experienced a whole lot, at least of significance. I didn’t yet realize the respect the American people had for the military or what exactly we meant to them. That is, until my friend’s brother asked me on the phone, “What’s going on?”
Now you may think that a question like that shouldn’t mean a whole lot other than simply what was being said. After all, a LOT of people were wondering “what’s going on.” But when I realized that the brother of a friend of mine who was also a person in which I normally spoke very little to, and he’s asking me “what’s going on?” there was a little something there.
This became the sentiment of a lot of civilians over the next few days. They were sort of looking to us as the military to know what was going on. I felt a responsibility to let people know what they wanted to know. So I truly felt like I was letting them down by saying, “I wish I could tell you. I honestly have no idea,” as I had to say this way more times than I would have liked to.
As things continued over the next few days, we learned what happened in more detail. It was absolutely devastating to say the least.
I feel that was my “Welcome to the Army” moment. Before that, I would choose times from basic training, but 9/11 quickly took over.
As horrible as this event was, what I saw in the coming months was something I had never seen before. People were uniting. ALL OVER. U.S. flags were coming out of everywhere. There was a patriotism I hadn’t seen much of in my lifetime. Even celebrities were getting involved. Normally, we’re all on different sides of pretty much everything, but that was one of the few times that all those differences just straight up, did not matter. It was amazing.
It was about this time when people started thanking me for my service. I really didn’t think I was doing anything special. This is what I signed up for; I didn’t deserve any “thanks.” But I was happy to be here for them as best as I could. I certainly did not want to let any of them down.
Bringing us to today, on the 14th anniversary of this fateful day and I will never forget. After three deployments (two to Iraq and one to Afghanistan), along with other overseas tours, people are still thanking me for my service and with a little more than 18 years of service now, I still have the very same feeling of not wanting to let anyone down. They have a certain expectations of us as soldiers and I want to live up to those expectations.
I still very fondly remember my friend’s brother and the sound in his voice when he asked me, “What’s going on?” I also see it in the eyes of those who thank me for my service as they shake my hand. It is so incredibly humbling. Most of the time, it catches me completely off guard, but it such a wonderful feeling to be appreciated like this.
This blog post is about 9/11, so please forgive me for shifting it to my Army career. As far as 9/11 is concerned, I’m pretty sure that even with this being 14 years ago, many can remember exactly where they were and what was taking place. Obviously, the loss of so many lives and those families is at the top of everyone’s thoughts, but just like in my case, there could be some attachment to this day as this may have been a turning point in many ways from where we were in our lives at that time.
I absolutely will never forget, and my heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones on this tragic day in our history. I am as saddened for them today as I was back in 2001. If any of you happen to be reading this, I sincerely hope that you have either found peace or are at least able to work toward being able to do so. I know that with losing loved ones, you never actually “get over it,” but you may be able to work toward being able to achieve that peace you rightfully deserve after such a tragic time in your lives.
For everyone else, what about you all? Where were you on September 11, 2001? If you’d like to share, feel free to do so in the comments below. I’d love to read about it.
Thanks so much for reading.