9/11: TEN COUNTRIES AND THREE CONTINENTS |
September 11, 2012
Deploying to: Afghanistan
I tried to write this post last night because I wanted it to go up first thing this morning. I just couldn’t put it all together. I wanted to wait and see what the day would bring. It seemed wrong to write about the day before it had the opportunity to unfold for me. I am certainly no soothsayer and when I started typing I thought I knew how I would feel today, but turns out I couldn’t put my finger on it. The day is over now, and I am still not sure how I feel. Disconnected comes to mind, but I’m not sure that’s it.
My first real recollection of September 11, 2001 started with my Operations Officer calling me at my desk.
“Are you watching the TV?”
He was calling me from off base. I thought it was some kind of trick question.
“No sir, I’m working.”
“Turn on the TV. Some idiot just flew a plane into the World Trade Center.”
Eleven years ago today I stood in the squadron conference room and watched the twin towers of the World Trade Center come down. I watched the smoke billow up from the gash in the Pentagon and the scorched pit in a random field in Pennsylvania. It was confusing. Unreal. Scary. I knew by the end of the day that things had changed.
I had no idea how right I would turn out to be.
Less than a week later I deployed for the first time in my life. I never stopped to wonder how many more would follow. I still don’t know the answer to that question.
The rotation was already scheduled but it took on a new urgency and a sense of foreboding. People really seemed to take notice that we were going. If we had deployed a week earlier it would have been a non-event in the local community. The conflict we were scheduled to deploy in support of had long been normalized. We’d been guarding Saddam for a decade at that point. The deployment turned out to be a big deal.
From Kuwait I watched the air campaign over Afghanistan unfold. Everything kept changing. By that time we were already supporting two conflicts, the continued enforcement of the Southern No Fly Zone and the new war in Afghanistan. We looked north to Iraq and saw nothing. The third country nationals who worked in our chow hall watched CNN as it played on the TVs while we ate dinner. I wonder now what they thought.
In the decade that has followed I have carried a rifle and kicked dirt in ten different countries on three continents. As I write this I am preparing to deploy again. This time I’m going back to where it all began — Afghanistan.
I have buried friends. I have buried peers. I buried one Airman who worked for me and didn’t go to the funeral of a second Airman because I wasn’t welcome there. I buried an Iraqi pilot who died with my friend. I watched his family. They grieved just like we did.
I am uncertain of the outcome of this war. It wasn’t always that way for me; there was a time when I thought I knew what this was all about and I was confident in how it would end. I’m trying to figure out what changed. Was it the war and its objectives or was it me? Can either be changed back? I’m not sure I even remember what it was like to be certain about the outcome of the war, but I know that I was at one time. It seems so long ago.
My uncertainty about the outcome of this war should not be confused with my belief that something must be done to try to secure our way of life and our country. Whatever that is, I am willing to do it. I am, after all, a volunteer. I’d just like to understand it. I’d like for it to make sense to me.
I should note that volunteering doesn’t make going any easier. One might think that after a decade of deployments a person would become somewhat desensitized to leaving your family, the comfort of your home and this fantastic country. This is simply not the case. It has not gotten any easier. Rather, every iteration of this war I have completed has been more and more difficult both personally and professionally.
The more I study this problem, the more I think about it, the more I participate in it, the more nebulous it seems to get.
I went to Ground Zero for the first time this year. It was awkward. There is a weird energy there for me, like something is happening but I couldn’t see it. Two new towers are twisting into the sky while water falls with a white noise into two enormous holes in the ground. I stood for a moment and tried to see the bottom of the memorial. I wanted to see where the water ended up but I couldn’t. It’s just a constant stream of water pouring into the memorial and then disappearing into a hole in the bottom. It’s endless and in a way unsatisfying. The symbolism is not lost on me.
The memorial has an eternal feel to it.
So does the war in Afghanistan at this point.