Reflections from a Veteran on the 20th Anniversary of 9/11

I remember Sept. 11, 2001, like it was yesterday. I was a freshman in high school, and I awoke early to wish my father a happy birthday before he left for work. That meant that, unlike most of my friends on Pacific Time in Arizona where I lived, I watched live as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center. I went to school knowing what I saw that morning would forever change the course of history. Ultimately, it would also alter the course of my own life by motivating me to serve my country. 

The attack on the country I love affected me deeply. I knew I wanted to do something but didn’t yet know how to contribute. At the end of my freshman year of college though, I met an Army recruiter on the University of Arizona campus. A couple of weeks later, I was shipped off to Army basic training. It wasn’t until I graduated college and accepted a job, however, that I received my orders to deploy. I vividly remember the arrival of a packet on my doorstep—official paperwork to serve in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

I believe an individual’s character is reflected by his or her actions in times of need. I was proud to step up and join the fight against terror in protection of my country. I didn’t know then that my deployment would forever transform who I was and how I viewed the world. 

Many veterans agree that war alters you. Loss, regret, anger and sadness are the panoply of emotions our combat veterans experience that profoundly affect us. Within the first months on the ground, my unit lost a soldier who was killed by an improvised explosive device. Upon returning home, a friend from basic training fatally overdosed, and another committed suicide.

As we remember Sept. 11, and the most recent events in Afghanistan, there are so many lives to mourn, and families left to grieve. For those families, 9/11 is an extremely difficult day. But it also is one where they can feel the warmth of remembrance and sympathy as America comes together in solidarity. Quickly though, the day passes, and the rest of us move forward with our own lives, while those individuals continue to suffer. Those affected by these events deserve to be remembered more than once a year, if not thought of each day. I know I can’t go a day without thinking of these losses.

While those of us who made it back are the lucky ones, coming home from war carries a cost. Some veterans witnessed more on-the-ground conflict than others, but many share unbearable feelings of regret. They ask themselves questions like, “Why me? Why am I here and not my friend?” and “Why was I able to cope better after the deployment than others who are no longer here today?” With the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, many veterans today are asking, “Was this war worth it? Was my buddy’s life worth it?” or “Was everything we did for 20 years just unraveled at once?”

This is where philanthropy can play a role. Philanthropy focuses on those in need, and right now, the needs of veterans are many. Thankfully, there are some phenomenal organizations that have made it their mission to help veterans and their families with critical services. On such a solemn anniversary, those who are interested in donating can show their gratitude to these heroes both by giving and by remembering. 

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