13 years ago, madmen killed thousands of innocents. It changed our way of life in many ways and was the spark that ignited an ongoing struggle with Islamic radicals. It deserves some meditation.

I learned about 9-11 sitting in a hospital waiting room for a physical therapy session (the result of an old parachute jump injury). I walked in and sat watching a TV showing the first tower smoking, trying to understand how an airliner hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center on a clear day. It was a BIG fire.

Then the second airliner hit the second tower.

I left the waiting room and returned to the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC, formerly the School of the Americas) where I was the division chief for the History & Leadership department that taught those subjects for the Command and General Staff College to a mixed class of US and primarily Latin American officers.

I spent the next hour in the break room with my eyes glued to the TV, watching the horror unfold. It was oppressively hot in that standing room-only space, something I didn’t realize until later when I noticed my sweaty uniform. I was hyper-focused on every fragment of news coming from the TV, but I did notice our allies were as focused on the US officers’ reactions as they were on the TV. Then the first tower came down to a collective gasp in the room, followed by the second tower.

I said what I was thinking out loud and I uncomfortably felt everyone’s eyes on me: “10,000 people just died.”

Being a New Yorker and been to the Towers numerous times, I knew how many people worked there. Thank God I was wrong. Shortly thereafter I walked into the Commandant’s office and volunteered for any tasking that would get me into the fight. Being in a school slot, I knew I was far away from any deployment but I would have been happy carrying ammo.

I stayed up that night watching the coverage as I cleaned a weapon. Sounds dramatic but it’s something one typically does before a mission even though my eventual contribution would become a more cerebral than physical one. I guess unconsciously I went there and, admittedly, having a weapon in my hand gave me a sense of strength in the middle of one of America’s most helpless moments.