Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11, 2006

September 11, 2006. Where were you today? Do you remember where you were 5 years ago? Do you remember how you felt? I imagine that you do.

On September 11, 2006 we were in formation at Camp Blackhorse, within Camp Pol-e-Charki, Afghanistan. We were honoring and commemorating the events of 5 years ago. The day’s events would include a flag raising ceremony and presentation of combat patches. I’ll include the actual remarks that were shared at the end of this entry so you can know what exactly was said.

I want to share the emotion.

We stood in formation for a few minutes before we were called to attention. You could sense that this was going to be a special moment. After we were called to attention, the honor guard approached and raised the American flag. As it was being raised, so many thoughts and feelings came flooding in. The overriding one was a sense of pride in what that flag represented. Then our National Anthem was played. As the notes of The Star Spangled Banner played over the speakers, that feeling of pride only increased. I couldn’t believe that I was here in Afghanistan representing our country. To hear the National Anthem played on foreign soil was very moving.

I suppose some would say that we are conquerors. We’re not. We did not come to conquer the country but to bring peace and democracy. The fact that there are those who do not want peace in this country will not deter us from our mission.

After the American flag was raised, the flag of New York City was raised. I did not expect that and that brought a whole flood of different emotions. I thought of the men and women who died that day. I thought of the men and women who gave their lives trying to save others.

I then thought of the terrorists who planned and carried out the attack. I don’t know if I’ve shared this or not, but the very ground where we stood was an Al Queada terrorist training camp 5 years ago. Now they’re gone and we’re here. I hope that the things that this camp stood for 5 years ago will be permanently replaced with the values that we now bring.

At the conclusion of the prepared remarks, we had a moment of silence. All the thoughts and feelings I had had were reinforced as I stood there thinking of so many people who have had an influence in my life. I thanked my Heavenly Father for His blessings and for His love and for the opportunity that I will have to influence someone else’s life.

After the raising of the flag we all received our combat patches. When we first learned at Shelby what the 41st Brigade (they are our parent command) patch was and looked like, several were not impressed. Others did not want to wear it. I must admit I was not too excited about the “look” of the patch. Then, when we arrived at Camp Phoenix, we were introduced to the history of the 41st Brigade. (A brief synopsis of their history is included in the remarks at the end of this entry.) Suddenly the patch took on new meaning. I was in the back of the formation and as I watched my friends and comrades receive their patches I began to look forward to receiving my own. As it was placed on my shoulder, it hit me, I am a combat warrior. I am in a combat zone and I have earned the right to proudly wear this symbol of my service to my country. The small patch took on a huge meaning for me.

At the end of the ceremony, the flags were lowered. As the American flag came down, Taps was played. It was the most beautiful rendition I have ever heard. Two trumpets played. One was the lead, the other echoed. It was very haunting. As it was playing, it brought tears to my eyes as I thought of the countless men and women over the years who have given their lives to preserve the freedoms we now take for granted. And believe me; we do take them for granted. I thought of our families who are at home, carrying on in our absence and the sacrifices they make. They are as much heroes as we are, if not more so.

We then moved on to the individual flag raising ceremony. Some of us were able to purchase flags that we flew over Camp Blackhorse “in the face of the enemy” “on foreign soil” in commemoration of the events of 9-11.

As we waited for our turn to fly our flags, we quietly talked about the events and emotions we had just gone through. Our Sergeant Major, Larry Hansen, had tears in his eyes as he talked about the emotions he felt as he heard the National Anthem being played. He talked of his two sons who just returned home from Iraq and how proud he was to be able to now say that like them, he was a combat warrior. I had to look away as it brought tears to my own eyes to witness the pride and love and patriotism reflected in his eyes. Serving with men like this is such an honor and makes me grateful to be able to share this experience with them.

As I raised my own flag…well I can’t really describe the feelings I felt. It was just a very emotional, almost spiritual experience. As I was able to stand and salute the symbol of our country, the symbol of our freedom, I again reflected on past heroes and the sacrifices they made on our behalf. I just hope that I can, in some small way, measure up to their standards.

And then it was over.

Life returned to normal, or as normal as it is over here. We all returned to our offices and work spaces to continue with our mission of mentoring the ANA and helping them move forward to becoming the best they can be.

Comments from the ceremony:

Remarks by LTC Mitchell, Commander, 3rd Brigade, 201st Corps

Welcome to today’s ceremony and thank you for coming. Today is Patriot Day as designated by Congress in 2002 to remember the events of September 11th, 2001. Today marks the fifth anniversary of this tragic event and we are here today to remind everyone of the great sacrifice and heroic actions of the police officers, firefighters and volunteers that assisted the casualties of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93. This event is also noteworthy because it changed many of our lives throughout these past years and has brought Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines together along with our coalition force partners from Germany to serve in support of the Global War on Terror.

In addition to Patriot Day, we will mark history by authorizing Soldiers to where the 41st Infantry Brigade shoulder sleeve insignia for former wartime service more commonly know as a “combat patch”. This ceremony will pay tribute to our lineage and record of your contribution to the unit history.
Following the combat patch ceremony, you will have the opportunity to participate in a flag raising ceremony and fly your own flag over Camp Blackhorse in honor of your support and sacrifice for Operation Enduring Freedom.

Thank you for joining me today in commemorating the tragic event of September 11th, 2001. The events of this day caused nearly 3,000 deaths and altered the lives of many Americans for time to come.

I’d like to spend a few minutes remembering the events of that day five years ago. At 8:46 a.m., a hijacked passenger jet, American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston, Massachusetts, crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
At 9:03 a.m.: A second hijacked airliner, United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston, crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center followed by American Airlines Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon at 9:43 a.m.

At 10:05 a.m.: The south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed and At 10:10 a.m.: United Airlines Flight 93, also hijacked, crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh. By 6 p.m. that day: Explosions were heard in Kabul, Afghanistan, hours after terrorist attacks targeted the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

We look back and many of us have painful images and feelings of disbelief as to what occurred. Most of you can remember exactly were you were and what you were doing and who the first person was that you called to make sure they were alright. This attack was not just an attack on the United States, it was on attack on the ideals and values we have, it was an attack on parents and children and their future and the way we live in a free world.

Today on Patriot Day, we honor the lives lost on September 11th and we share our sympathy with their loved ones. Equally important, we recognize the heroism and character of the American people. We remember the bravery of New York’s firefighters, police officers and emergency personnel who truly lived up to their oath to serve and protect. These heroes rushed staircases to save lives while sacrificing their own. This theme was consistent with servicemen and women at the Pentagon and volunteers throughout all targeted areas.

One year ago, we underwent another tragedy along our Gulf Coast in the United States after Hurricane Katrina demolished all the communities along the coastline. And we saw once again, the diverse cross-section of military and civilian, white collar and blue collar workers, international and American citizens, bonding together to save and rebuild these ruined communities. This only goes to show how we unite under the face of adversity.

Our military personnel have seen duty stateside and all over the world since September 11th protecting our national interests and protecting our way of life. We performed admirably supporting homeland defense as we experienced firsthand the changes in our Armed Forces and National Security Policy.

Today, I look out at all you and see the same diverse cross-section of American and International citizens like those that united on the streets of Manhattan near the World Trade Center, along the wall of the Pentagon, the crash site of United Flight 93 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania and the Gulf Coast of the United States during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

September 11th was a drastic turning point that altered your lives and the lives of many Americans forever. Because of that, we are all here together as one combined fighting force from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and German Army along with other coalition force partners. Both active duty and reserve component personnel bringing skills and experience to unite against the adverse conditions here in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Today is not complete without honoring your service appropriately. Thank you for all of your hard work, passion and commitment while answering your call to duty. You truly know that freedom is not free as all of you made sacrifices to be here.

I would like to close with a quote from President John F. Kennedy – “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but by the way they are honored and by the way they’re remembered and we remember them by a moment of silence”.

Would you now please join me in a moment of silence?

Thank you!

Remarks by CSM Roy, 3rd Brigade, 201st Corps

At the beginning of our ceremony, LTC Mitchell mentioned in his welcoming comments that we will mark history today by authorizing Soldiers to wear the 41st Infantry Brigade shoulder sleeve insignia for former wartime service or more commonly know as a “combat patch”.

The 41st Infantry Brigade was activated as a division in 1917 and later served with distinction in New Guinea and the Philippines. The 41st spent periods of harsh jungle fighting and later took Basilian Island unopposed. This success lead to the unit nickname “Jungleers”, previously called “Sunset Division”. Currently, the 41st is based out of Oregon as a National Guard Brigade Combat Team. The shoulder patch is a semicircle of red with 12 orange rays and an orange sun with a blue base.

According to the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry, the moving of the shoulder sleeve insignia from your left shoulder representing your current unit to the right shoulder to represent former wartime service became common practice in World War II. Since then, the combat patch has become a mark of experience for service in a combat zone.

This small piece of cloth means so much to Soldiers because it symbolizes that they’ve been in battle. We have some Soldiers who have served an entire 20 year career and are now being presented with their first combat patch culminating over two decades of service to their country.

This patch symbolizes more than just another item to place on your uniform. It’s a reflection on the historical significance of the 41st Infantry Brigade and Task Force Phoenix. Many of you are not originally from the 41st, and are proud of the unit you deployed with, but make no mistake, from the 41st or not, today is about you and you are part of history. Most importantly, this patch represents your personal contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom along with your fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines from the active and reserve component and our coalition force partners from Germany.

We have now reached the point in today’s events where you get to fly your flag over Camp Blackhorse. Many of you will raise a flag today so you have a memory of the time you spent here or you may raise it for a special person or organization back home. This is a great opportunity to raise a flag in honor of those who supported you most while you were deployed in Afghanistan.

1 comment:

stewartclan said...

I was excited when my husband told me about your blog. I enjoyed reading about your thoughts and feelings of this tragic day. My husband once wrote to me, "Though we are seperated by distance, we are together in spirit." Your entries help us to feel that closeness as we see pictures and read entries of what you guys are experiencing. Though distance may seperate us, your entries bring us closer together. Thank you for sharing these with us. All of the soldiers, as well as the Afghan people are in our prayers. Take Care!