It’s Friday, September 10th, and my nephew, Tim, graduates from Marine Corps Boot Camp today. Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Somehow, it’s both appalling and gratifying to think that pretty much everybody knows exactly what I’m talking about when I just mention a date.
The attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and the attempted attack on the White House that ended in a Pennsylvania field, were so staggering in their impact, such deep wounds to our nation, and at the same time such a universal unifying force of compassion and resolve that swept around the globe and touched so many millions of souls so deeply, that a simple date evokes an avalanche of memories and emotions. It’s been doing that for 20 years…it was that powerful.
And now Tim and his companions in that training battalion are about to take up the responsibility for the defense of our country as they transition from recruits into Marines. And most of them weren’t even born when 9/11 happened. It makes my head spin a little when I think about it. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
There’s a lot that goes into that defense of our country, and a lot of it is taken for granted. A lot of it, people just don’t know about. I worked in a then-classified mobile missile warning unit that deployed to dozens and dozens of locations right here in the United States, playing hide-and-seek with Russian spy satellites, with a mission of surviving the first wave of nuclear missile strikes…because we knew the primary missile warning sites wouldn’t survive…so that we could warn the National Command Authorities about the targets and timing of the second wave. We knew an attack could happen at any time, but we had no idea when or where or how bad, so we trained, and waited, and stayed alert, and prepared.
I also worked in a unit in South Korea that was stationed north of Seoul, in the way of a potential advance of the North Korean Army, and our mission was to train to live in the field, manage communications between rear echelon and forces engaging the enemy, and provide forward air control for air support to ground troops. We knew the North Koreans could come across the border at any time, but we had no idea when or where or how bad, so we trained, and waited, and stayed alert, and prepared.
And on that fateful day 20 years ago, I was already deployed to Kuwait for Operation Southern Watch and was stationed within mortar range of the Iraq border. By the time the second plane hit the second tower, pretty much the entire U.S. military was on high alert and bases were locked down and the search for who and how had feverishly begun. We knew that Iraq was suspected of having stockpiles of chemical weapons, and wasn’t happy with us, and just might be unleashing a retaliation at us. And we were within mortar range. So we kept our chemical defense gear close at hand, and trained, and waited, and stayed alert, and prepared.
I was fortunate. The Russians didn’t launch their nukes, the North Koreans didn’t roll across the DMZ, and Saddam Hussein wasn’t lobbing chem warfare mortars at us. The point of all this rambling is that there is an overabundance of bad people in this world who want what you have and want to take it from you. Or are jealous of you and want to take it out on you. Or who think that because you aren’t like them or don’t think like them, you should be punished or subjugated or destroyed.
A lot of those people who hate us are in Afghanistan, like Al Qaeda–the real perpetrators of 9/11–plus the Taliban, ISIS-K, and others, and we’ve just spent 20 years suppressing their aggressions against the world and ensuring a measure of freedom for the people of that region. But now we’ve left there and given the bad guys back their base of training and operations. This isn’t intended as a criticism of that action, because there is a tremendous complication behind decisions about how our forces are employed and there are other ways and places for bad guys to gather and train and plot against us, anyway. But it does encourage those bad guys and it worries me to think it happened right before the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
What’s going to happen on Saturday? Maybe nothing…that’s what we’re hoping for, of course. Maybe something huge. But no matter what, it’s hanging over the heads of our military men and women just like Russia and North Korea and Iraq were hanging over my head on those other days, years ago. And they will be training, and waiting, and staying alert, and being prepared for whatever happens.
So here’s a big salute to Tim, and his battalion, and his comrades-in-arms all around the world, because the price of liberty is eternal vigilance and they are paying that price for us. We’re all fortunate to be living in a country that values individual freedom and liberty for all, and like President Kennedy once said, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”