Nine years ago, I was sleeping on my buddy Dan's couch. I wasn't what you would call a contributor to the common good. I was technically homeless (although I was pretty much allowed on the couch at will), collecting unemployment, and taking one class at the local college. It had been a pretty hard night of drinking the previous evening, so I was not terribly pleased when Dan's roommate Robin woke me up.
"Dennis, your mom is on the phone. She sounds pretty upset," Robin said. I took the phone.
"Turn on the TV. We're under attack."
As I turned on the TV, the second tower collapsed.
The next few days were a bit of a blur. I remember the bars being packed. And silent. Everyone wanted to be around each other, but we were all glued to the news. I tried to give blood, but getting there three hours early wasn't enough to beat the lines. I gave some cash here and there. None of it was terribly satisfying.
I realized that the world was no longer about me and I wanted to contribute.
About a week later, I watched a W. speech and it hit me like a ton of bricks. "I need to join the Army and get in this fight." That night, I went to my parents' house and told them this much. The next day, I went into the Army recruiting station. The day after that, I signed some papers. The following day, I took my ASVAB. The next day a physical and a meeting with the career counselor. I raised my right hand that afternoon. It was September 24th, 2001.
Nine years on, I am coming to the end of this stage of my military career. I'm in Afghanistan for the second time, involved in the war I enlisted to fight. I can add to that five tours to Iraq, the war I am not sure we had any business fighting. Only time will tell how that plays out. I have a greater understanding of so many things. I can call myself a paratrooper and a veteran now, whereas before the words more commonly used to describe me were dropout and drunk.
I realize that this post is all about me, when today should not be. Today is about the dead we mourn and the families they left behind. Today is about the images that are forever seared in our minds. Today is about remembering that there is something larger than each of us individually.
There was a run today on Bagram. 9.11km. The t-shirts provided to the participants reminded us to "Never Forget." For some of us who grew up close to or in New York City and Washington D.C., that's never going to be an issue. Colin Stewart, a Long Island native who I went to basic training with, attended 37 funerals between September 11 and when he shipped to basic.
You can wrap up things in tidy slogans--Never Forget, Let's Roll, Freedom Endures--but we must remember that there is a greater truth that cannot be summed up in a catch phrase. Today has a different meaning to each of us. I guess what is important is that it does have a meaning.