A Decade Later

It's the 10 year anniversary of September 11th. I figure it's about time I tell my story of where I was ten years ago when tragedy struck.

I enlisted into the Army in August of 2001. I had been out of HS for awhile, working the night shift at KMart for pennies. I tried college, but I didn't know what I wanted to do so I wasn't comfortable "wasting the money" while I figured it out. My boyfriend at the time started looking into joining the Army. I was MAD! I was sure recruiters were liars, but when I saw the option to become a linguist, I reconsidered my stance. I'd always been interested in foreign languages, having taken German, Italian, Latin, and French in high school, I was ready for more. I was ready to be a linguist and the big enlistment bonus was just that, a bonus. I said my tearful goodbyes and off I went to Fort Jackson, SC (aka "Camp Snoopy"). I assured my Mom I'd never go to war... like that is something anyone really knows.

We were about halfway through our training when tragedy struck. We were completely disconnected from any form of media. There were no papers, no TV, no computers, no calls from home. At first I thought it was a rumor. We marched to breakfast with our obviously agitated drill sergeants. Yesterday's paper was on the bulletin board outside, nothing of interest. Our training for the day was buddy drills and bayonet training. It wasn't until we had marched to the training site that our drill sergeants finally told us what had happened. It was brief. Someone attacked the towers, we're likely going to war, take this training seriously. We screamed and plunged bayonets into old tires, still unsure what was happening. The Drills were around, but obviously distracted. We marched back to base, and where we once had a set schedule for everything, there was a sudden confusion. The command was grouped together and silent. They were angry. They were obviously on edge. Lunch was the last scheduled event.

We were called into the bays for meetings. Everything had to be changed. We were shutting down the base. The threat level had risen and we were on alert. Metal picnic tables were tipped and pushed into the bay openings. We were issued M16's and given our 24hr guard duty postings. New tasks had to be taught... "halt, who goes there. Advance to be recognized". Our ID's were constantly in our hands. We were scared and nervous and oblivious. Later that night we finally were given the opportunity to call home. No calls went through. Lines everywhere were busy, but some of us kept trying. Our platoon leader had a brother vacationing in NY. He was a firefighter and would have rushed to help out. One call finally went through and when I saw our platoon leader punching the ground, the vending machines, the phone, crying and screaming... I think that's when it finally hit me. Apparently his brother had gone in, and the tower collapsed on top of him. No one knew if he was still alive. No one knew anything.

I don't remember eating dinner. I don't remember sleeping. I remember sitting in the classroom with the chaplain and several people who had lost someone. I was crying so hard everyone thought I'd lost someone as well, but I hadn't. I couldn't handle all the pain in that room. I sat in the back alone with a box of tissues. Most of the people there shipped off for emergency leave on buses. My sister was living in Ft. Drum at the time and I finally was able to contact her thanks to the chaplain's cell phone. It was chaotic out there to say the least. She was fine, scared but fine, and I was happy to hear it. Later we got news that our platoon leader's brother had been found. Both legs were broken, but he was awake and asking for grits in the hospital. We laughed and cried together about the good news. Eventually we went to bed and talked ourselves to sleep about how scared we were. We were sure we'd be sent straight to war.

Outside the chow hall the next morning was a crowd of soldiers. No drill sergeants were yelling or telling them to get back in formation. There was the paper behind the glass of the bulletin board. The twin towers with smoke pouring out of them. All we could read was the headline and a bit of the story. And that was it. The rest of basic training was on high alert, but we never heard anything else about September 11th. We saw the front pages as they made their way behind the glass. To this day I feel very disconnected from September 11th. I never saw the news stories. I wasn't with anyone glued to the TV, watching the events unfold. I didn't discuss it at graduation with my parents. I got a few letters from family about their experiences. The first time I finally read about any of it was after graduation in the airport. I sat in my class A's on a plane to language school and sobbed over pictures of my flag being burned. I read about what had transpired and saw the pictures. They were small. They were "old". They were flat. There wasn't a sense of camaraderie. I was alone. I landed. New drill sergeants. New schedule. New room. Life went on.

I wish I had seen the towers before they were attacked and destroyed. I live in Spain, but I still haven't been to New York... driving distance from where I grew up. One day I will go. I will visit the memorial and maybe, finally, standing in the square reading the names, I will finally feel connected. Maybe then I can really grasp that it actually happened. Now I'm out of the military, a SAHM of 3 boys, married to an Army man, living in Europe. Wow.
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