It’s almost 1am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on September 11, 2021.
Twenty years ago at this time, I was flying somewhere over Europe, having just left our stopover in Shannon, Ireland. We were supposed to be one of the last units heading over to Bosnia-Herzegovina on a 7 month peacekeeping mission. But I had gone to my boss, Major (now a retired lieutenant colonel) Shirley Ammon and told her I was getting antsy and didn’t want to keep sitting around for days at Fort Dix, New Jersey, waiting for our ride. She told me if I could find a seat, I could head on over.
That morning of September 10, 2001, I rushed over to the airfield to see who was leaving that day. I found an engineer unit that was flying out, and as luck would have it, they had two open seats. Since I was the assistant inspector general (IG) for the 29th Infantry Division, it wasn’t hard to convince folks in the engineer unit, and at the airfield, to add me to the manifest.
Our flight left that evening, with a stopover in Ireland. None of us knew that we were leaving behind an America that was to no longer to exist. We would never return to the America we knew.
3am EDT, September 11, 2001
While my wife and kids slept back in Virginia, I landed at the airfield at Eagle Base, just outside the city of Tuzla in northern Bosnia. It’s 9am there (Bosnia is 6 hours ahead of the east coast of the United States), so I completely missed the entire night. It was going to be a long day, trying to get my body used to the new time. I checked in, got issued my four man shed that I would sleep in, as well as received my ammunition and other items that would be needed for this mission.
After dropping my gear on my bunk, I walked over to the building which housed my new office. I wanted to meet the 3rd Infantry Division assistant IG, the man I was replacing. Come to find out, he had left that morning. Since I had notified them I was coming early, the 3rd ID inspector general had sent him home early. I often wonder where he ended up getting stuck at after all the flights were stopped in the United States, just a few hours later.
I met with the 3rd ID IG, and he knew that I was dead tired. So he told me to get something to eat, and then head back to get some sleep. He said we would talk later, and begin the transition before MAJ Ammon was to arrive and relieve him.
8am EDT, September 11, 2001
I had gotten a few hours sleep and was now headed over to get something to eat, and then back to the office. As I said earlier, we were there on a peacekeeping mission. Bosnia, with its sectarian wars in the early 1990s, had seen its worst days. But as we entered the 21st Century, American military presence over the last nine years had tempered all of that, and Bosnia was relatively peaceful when we arrived. In fact, we had kind of gotten it in our heads that this was going to be pretty much a cakewalk and we would have lots of time for other activities.
I walk into the dining facility near my office about 8:30am EDT. It’s now 2:30pm in Bosnia, so I sit down to have lunch by myself. I am still groggy from the time change, but know it is likely to take a few days before that works itself out. There is a TV on one side of the dining hall, playing the news, but I’m not paying attention to it. In fact, when the news started reporting the first plane hitting the North Tower at the World Trade Center, I was getting more to eat. Once I had finally finished eating, I headed the half block over to my office.
9am EDT, September 11, 2001
There was a small coffee shop / ice cream shop located between the dining hall and my office. Due to my jet lag, I decide to grab a coffee to take with me, trying to find ways to stay alert and awake. I walk into the coffee shop and order. As I wait, I notice at a table there were four Russian soldiers. Russia had sent a unit to be a part of the peacekeeping force. As I turned away from them, the TV in the room caught my eye. I noticed the news was pushing a video of New York City, and I could see one of the towers at the World Trade Center was on fire. The caption at the bottom mentioned a plane crash. All I thought was “that’s a hell of an accident.”
The Bosnian national that was working the counter let me know that my coffee was ready. As I was just about to walk over and grab the cup, I saw a plane slam into the South Tower. It was now 9:03am EDT. I realized what this was now, as I stood there riveted to the TV, turning up the sound. It felt like I was standing there for hours, as the talking heads tried to piece together what was going on.
I was brought out of my stupor by a hand on my shoulder. It was the hand of one of the Russian soldiers, who had come up to me as they were leaving. They had been watching with me. But now, this one soldier said to me “I am so very sorry.”
9:10am EDT, September 11, 2001
After the Russian soldiers had brought me back to reality, I ran back to the four man barracks where all my gear was and I put on my full “battle rattle” (which is all of my gear). I then ran the three blocks back to the building containing my office. I threw my gear into my office, and walked across the hall to the 3rd ID inspector general’s office and asked “Sir, what are your orders?”
What most people do not know is that while you sat shocked in front of your television screens, while Flight 93 was still in the air and the heroes onboard were plotting to take out the terrorists before it could hit the U.S. Capitol, the American military was already flexing forward. All around the world, all around Bosnia, all over Eagle Base, the American military switched into a wartime footing as fast as it takes you to take a shower in the morning. While everyone was trying to figure out what was going on, your military was already leaning forward in the foxhole.
The Last 20 Years
We finished our mission in Bosnia in April 2002. We rounded up a lot of known or suspected terrorists, sending them off in planes, dressed in orange jumpsuits and shackles. A lot of doors were kicked in as the tip of the spear was out rounding up anyone that even had a passing affiliation with those groups and men responsible for what had happened. In every way possible, the mission we had NOT trained for was a complete success, and we could all be proud of what we had accomplished.
As I stated earlier, we had left an America that was not to exist when we returned. To be honest, for many years after returning, I felt like I had been grabbed by aliens, and I was living in some bizarre, alternate reality world. A lot looked the same… but nothing really was.
I came back to a crisis in my family. In the meantime, the military was now making even more demands of me, as we were at war and everyone needed to contribute. In the fall of 2003, in my new position as an infantry first sergeant, I was preparing my company for a year long deployment in Afghanistan. For me, who had trained my whole life for something like this, it was kind of like the Super Bowl. I was going to lead men into battle.
Due to the problems going on back home, I was not able to deploy with the unit in the Spring of 2004, so I retired that Spring. I’m not going to go into the details of all of how I ended up retiring and what was going on here, as I am finishing my book and hope to have it out soon. My book outlines what happened, and how God found a way to bring me home years after my body actually did.
The War Won’t End
I say this for many reasons. First, the enemy we have been fighting the last two decades is the same one we have been fighting for centuries. It is an enemy that believes that we must either become like them and submit to their god, or die. There are no other options, there is no negotiation. I know this about them because I have met them, talked with them. They are deadly serious. They will not stop. There will be more attacks on us, our homeland, and our way of life.
The second reason I say the war won’t end has to do with the war within us who have carried the burden of this war. Many did not come home. Some came home physically broken, others mentally and emotionally destroyed. Many military families were torn apart by all of this. While civilians are congratulating themselves that the recent withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan ended the war, veterans know this war hasn’t nor will end. Our enemy won’t allow it.
The war within will continue for so many of my brothers and sisters. In fact, it took me 18 years to get to the point where everything that happened was no longer affecting me. Eighteen years of strife, struggle, and many times, desperation. Eighteen years of my children riding a rollercoaster that they did not sign up for. Creating emotional issues in them that still affect them to this day.
This war continues, no matter what the politicians say.
It’s now 2am on September 11, 2021. And I am tired.