In the early hours of that crisp September morning in 2001, none of us could’ve foreseen the seismic shift the world was about to experience. The Twin Towers, mighty symbols of America’s indomitable spirit and financial prowess, crumbled, taking with them the innocence of a nation. That day, I was serving at SEAL TEAM 3 in San Diego, California. My world, like so many others, would be irrevocably altered. Little did I know I’d miss the birth of my first son, Hunter.

Like Admiral McRaven famously said, “If you want to change the world, start by making your bed.” Each of us in the special operations community knew our paths were going to be daunting challenging, but undeniably purposeful. The battlefronts changed, but the ethos remained – honor, courage, and commitment. Whether in the treacherous mountains of Afghanistan or the deceptive calm of Iraqi deserts, our missions were underscored by a deep sense of duty, pride, and a hint of vengeance for the American lives taken on that fateful day.

Nine Eleven NYC
Nine Eleven Two Thousand One. Chaos in New York City. Original illustration by SOFREP

Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter, had just finished his shift and was on his way to play golf with his brothers when he got the news about the World Trade Center. He turned his vehicle around and drove back to his station to gather his gear. Finding the Brooklyn Tunnel closed, he strapped on his 60 lbs. of gear and ran through the tunnel to the towers, where he gave his life saving others. His memory lives on through the Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

Welles Crowther, a 24-year-old equities trader, is credited with saving as many as 18 lives on 9/11. Despite the danger, he made multiple trips up and down the floors, guiding people to safety. Crowther’s identity remained unknown for months until his story came out through survivors who remembered a brave young man with a red bandana leading them to safety. Crowther lost his life that day, but his story of bravery endures.

When the passengers of United Flight 93 realized their plane was being used as a weapon, a group of them decided to fight back. They communicated with loved ones over the phone and pieced together the day’s events. Realizing the probable target was the U.S. Capitol, they took matters into their own hands. While the details of their resistance will never be fully known, the plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, far from its intended target. The brave individuals aboard Flight 93 were later honored with a national memorial at the crash site.

When the towers fell, Manhattan’s seaports were closed, leaving hundreds of thousands of people stranded on the island. In what’s been described as the largest sea evacuation in history, civilian boats—ferries, fishing vessels, and even private crafts—came together in an unplanned rescue effort. Captains and crews navigated debris-filled waters to shuttle over 500,000 people from Lower Manhattan to safety in under nine hours. It was an incredible display of solidarity and spontaneous human collaboration.

These stories, among many others from that day, highlight the unwavering spirit of humanity in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

As the years rolled on, I transitioned from the battlegrounds to boardrooms, founding, a venture that aimed to bridge the gap between the public and the often misunderstood world of foreign policy, defense, and the new focus and reliance upon US Special Operations.