Thursday, September 9, 2021

My Story of 9/11 and the War on Terror

It's been twenty years since the darkest day in American history; September 11, 2001. There are grown adults now who weren't even born when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Those adults have no concept of what it was like that day. That is not a judgment on them, it is just amazing to me. It was also the day that came to define my young adulthood.

 I was in the Army on that day. I was in year two of what would be over a decade of active service. I was twenty years old. I didn't have any intention of staying past my first enlistment. But the events of that day compelled me to re-enlist twice, the second time from an active combat zone in Iraq. I look back on that day twenty years ago and everything that happened because of it, and I contrast it with what has happened in the past few weeks in Afghanistan and I cannot help but feel like everything we all went through, everything we sacrificed, was all for nothing. 

I cannot help but feel like our leaders in the year 2021 failed every veteran who served in the War on Terror. We left Iraq in late 2011 and Isis took it over. This year, before we were even completely out of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the very government we fought to depose and free that country from, took everything over once again. Thirteen American troops died in a terror attack amidst the chaos the ensued. As a result, we are now exactly back to where we were on September 10, 2001. Twenty years of sacrifice all for nothing.


I joined the U.S. Army reserves as a 17-year-old high school junior in 1998. I attended Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri that summer. I returned home, graduated high school in 1999, after which I attended Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where I trained to be a Medical Logistics Specialist. That would be my job for the nine out of ten years I would spend on active service. Shortly after returning home from Texas, I requested a release from the reserves. In early 2000, I reported to Fort Carson, Colorado as a member of the active duty component of the U.S. Army.  


I was assigned to the 10th Combat Support Hospital. On September 11, 2001, we were conducting a training exercise to get ready for yet another training exercise in Fort Polk, Louisiana later in the year. I would not be joining the unit at Fort Polk as I had been selected to become a U.S. Army Recruiter for a year under the Corporal Recruiting Program. I joined the unit in the first part of the exercise that day, but would later report back to garrison for a required briefing for the CRP. The second tower collapsed during the bus ride to the training site, and we were all rightly horrified. Our commander, Colonel John Chambers, gave an impassioned speech about how this was a dark day to be an American. I don't remember much about what he said in that speech, but I do remember the personal encounter he and I had later that day. 

I returned from the training site and attended my briefing. Having nothing else to do, I returned to the barracks and watched the images of the towers collapsing over and over in the dayroom. I don't remember what the exact joke was, but after about the fiftieth time of watching the footage, I made what could be considered an inappropriate dark joke. It was mild, but it wasn't a good look. I got up to leave the dayroom only to find Colonel Chambers, the baddest motherfucker I'll ever meet in my life, standing right there glaring at me. I couldn't deny the joke I just made, and this guy had just given a speech about the gravity of the situation mere hours before, and I knew he knew I had been present. So I had to own it. I sighed and asked "Sir, are we fucked?" I'll never forget his response. He looked at me, looked at the huge big screen behind me, then back at me and said "no, Chadwick. We are the ones who are fucked. Not even close." And he turned and walked out of the room. That was when I knew for sure that our lives had changed, that we would be the ones to deal with what just happened.  

And so, while I was in recruiter school a month later, we invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban. It was the first war started during my time in the Army, but not the last. President Bush called in the War on Terror, and it was something I came to believe was a righteous and valiant fight against evil. 

I spent 2002 in Utah recruiting and returned to Fort Carson in 2003 during the run up to the invasion of Iraq. I was not reassigned to the 10th CSH, who deployed to the invasion. Had I not gone out on recruiting, I would have joined them. Instead I was assigned to Smith Army Dental Clinic. I ran the supply room, helping make sure members of the Army Reserve and National Guard who were deploying had all their dental work done. My enlistment was up at the end of the year, but I knew I couldn't leave during a time like this. So I reenlisted. 


This took me the 226th Medical Logistics Battalion at Miesau Army Depot in Germany in early 2004. We deployed to Iraq almost immediately. During this first deployment I was stationed in a Forward Support Team in Mosul. We returned to Germany in Early 2005, only to return to Iraq again in October, replacing our own replacements mere months after we left. For the second deployment, I stayed with the main unit on LSA Anaconda in Balad. In May 2006, I reenlisted again. During these deployments, I had more than a few close calls. I won't bore you with the details fact, two particular attacks have left me with some pretty serious hearing damage. But I made it out of there with my life and all of my limbs, so I am luckier than many who sacrificed much more.  

I spent my final three years at the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Chemical Defense at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland. I was coming up on a decade in the Army and made the decision to not reenlist for a third time. I was honorably discharged in May 2010, after which I used my Montgomery GI Bill to acquire two degrees in graphic design. I have been living the civilian life ever since.  


I am summarizing my career in such a way to show that I did, in fact, have skin in the game. But I also do not want to be accused to trying to be somebody I am not or take credit for things I did not do. I never made it to Afghanistan, I want to be clear on that. That was not part of my experience. But Iraq and Afghanistan were the two fronts in the continuing War on Terror. A war that our enemies started by attacking us on September 11, 2001. Pulling out of Iraq at the end of 2011 angered me, especially when Isis took the country over. I felt like everything I had helped do had been undone. But the feeling I had back then pales in comparison to how I feel now. Seeing the images of the chaos at the Kabul airport and everything that followed has left me with a feeling of hollow emptiness in my soul. Everything we worked to achieve in the fight against terrorism, all gone. It was all for nothing.  

John Chambers died of brain cancer in 2006. I wish I could talk to him now. I wish I could call up that dude up. I have no idea what I would even ask. I just want to talk to him and see what he would think about everything that has happened. We were the ones who put our lives on the line for all this. We were the ones who made all the sacrifices, not anyone else. Everybody else watched it from afar and commented on it like a TV show! That's all it was to everybody else. And it's why I can't take our leaders seriously anymore.

I can't shake the feelings of emptiness inside me. I feel like our leaders owe every person who served an apology for how all this was just thrown away. Some of them should even resign, but I'm not going to say names. This isn't political. I just wish there were some way to fix it. But there isn't.

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