As the month of September comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on the events of September 11, 2001. So many things changed for America that day. Over a period of two hours, most of us watched as the World Trade Towers were turned into a pile of steel and burning debris, a major section of the Pentagon was reduced to rubble, and American Airlines Flight 93 plummeted to the earth. America was in a state of shock; most people were glued to their televisions or listened to their radios as the events unfolded. Every one of us remembers what we were doing during that horrific time, and I, like others, often reflect back on that day to remind myself who we are fighting and why.
This day unified America, though sadly, only for a short period of time. Some were motivated to join the military to answer the call of duty, or were inspired by the bravery of our New York City firefighters, police officers, and emergency service personnel and join their ranks. There were many of us who had to answer all of the questions of our children – those innocent faces who asked, “Why?”. Our world changed forever.
Our country was rocked to the core that clear, sunny morning and I felt our loss deeply. That cowardly attack was an attack on my heart and soul. Those who died that day were my countrymen, my brothers and sisters – every one of them. Each of us experienced that day a different way, but what was amazing to me is that despite all of our differences, we stood strong and united as Americans. This is my story of that day.
I deployed overseas in March of 2001. This deployment began like most of our other SEAL deployments, saying goodbye to those we love, grabbing our kit, and taking the long flight over to the Mediterranean. Our mission, officially called Foreign Internal Defense or FID, was to support the host nations in a noncombat role by supporting the foreign Special Operations Forces personnel. This consisted of working with and training our foreign host counterparts; learning valuable skills from each other. This mission took me to many places including Spain, France, Morocco, Italy, and Gibraltar.
One of our final trips of the deployment was traveling to Turkey. We arrived the first week of September. This trip was much like all of the others, training and trying to communicate with the Turkish Special Forces Operators. None of us could have imagined how different this trip was to become and how our mission was to instantly change. It was late afternoon. We were done training for the day. Some members of my platoon were out in town, either at the gold bazaar, or seeing the sites within Istanbul. Myself and a few others were relaxing within the Turkish Special Operations compound watching television and drinking tea. That was when the Turkish news began to broadcast the first burning Trade Tower with reports stating that a plane had struck it. We watched intently as we tried to understand the Turkish news reporter and the images we were seeing. Within minutes a video showed a second plane flying into the other tower. All of us knew at that moment that the United States was under attack.
There was a lot of commotion around the compound as Turkish officers and soldiers spoke quietly amongst themselves and then moved quickly to meetings elsewhere. Little was said to us. After an hour or two, reports were coming in to us that for our safety, we were to remain solely on the compound. Those members of my platoon out in town were quickly picked up by Turkish security personnel and returned to base. That is when we discovered that there were people in the streets celebrating and lighting fireworks as the news broke. That same day, as we all thought of those back at home dealing with this loss, we received our first orders: pack your gear, and prepare to mobilize. We were told that this was a terrorist attack by a group who called themselves Al Qaeda; a large movement of radical Islamic fighters who had now brought war to the shores of America.
Throughout the next couple of days, we stowed our gear and checked our equipment. Weapons and ordinance were checked and rechecked. Two questions many of us had were, “where are we going? Who were we preparing to pay a very violent visit to?” During this time, the Turkish Special Forces Operators still kept their distance from us. There were roughly fifteen operators in our group, and they numbered more than one hundred. Why was nothing being said? Did they share some of the same views as some of their countrymen who praised the attack? Were they embarrassed? It was unclear to me what they thought. It took a few more days to finally receive American air assets to fly us out of Turkey and to our next destination. We would link up with the rest of our SEAL Task Unit and go to war.
As we grabbed our bags and walked out the door of the main building we entered a large concrete staging area. In the distance were the buses that would take us to the airport, but what lay between us and our transportation out of Turkey was something I didn’t expect to see; the entire Turkish Special Forces Compound were in formation. As our small group exited we were asked to line up. What the Turkish Commanding Officer said to his men I will never know, but they began to move single file towards us. Each one of them in their best English shook our hands, hugged us, and expressed their sorrow for our loss. Whether it was sincere or a direct order form their superior, I believe they respected us as warriors and knew that the might of America had been awakened. We were a component of that might, the tip of the spear, and we were heading to war. It was time to do our duty and show the world what we all believed: that the American people would not stand for events like this to happen, that there will be hell to pay. That is what I believed in September of 2001.
What do you believe? What is your story?