I had been back in the military only about a year. I was an adult student at Hunter College on the Upper East Side and had joined the National Guard after a break in service from active duty to help pay for tuition. That Tuesday, after a morning swim, I sat down early for a 9 am. klas. It was just a typical day.
Oomblikke later, fire engines, sirens screaming, charged down Lexington Avenue outside the window. The professor couldn’t make herself heard over what seemed like the entire FDNY. After a few minutes a young woman in the rear of the class looked up from her cellphone and said:
“An airplane just hit the World Trade Center.” And in that moment, the world changed.
I rushed to the National Guard Armory down Lexington at 25th Street. Soldiers accumulated there all day. We weren’t sure yet what was happening, but we knew that’s where we needed to be. We spent time organizing and waiting for orders. It was all so frustrating. When night fell, we deployed as a unit to lower Manhattan and were assigned to secure the area from pedestrian traffic.
I got my first look at Ground Zero that night. It was horrific, a war zone in my hometown. I ended up spending two weeks there, securing the site by night, directing traffic and catching a few winks by day.
Over the years I came to feel extraordinarily lucky. I knew what to do and where to go that day. I had a mission and a purpose.
In the aftermath of 9/11, America had a mission and a purpose, ook, one that I shared and actively participated in. While active-duty components of the military prosecuted a war against al Qaeda and their Taliban hosts, the National Guard worked to help secure the homeland. I spent time guarding the terminals at JFK airport between semesters.
I also participated as our mission strayed. I went to Iraq in 2004, where I proudly pursued justice against Saddam Hussein, without questioning the wisdom of the war. I spent most of 2008 in Afghanistan, long after the mission there turned from our initial goal of retribution to nation building.