Thursday, September 8, 2011

A soldier remembers

As in all things, the most accurate point-of-view willl come from from "first person observation". This soldier who was on scene at the Pentagon on 09/11 and has served in Iraq & Afghanstan provides insight into what our military experienced over the last 10 years.

Sage words from one of our warriors.

A soldier remembers
Thu Sep 8, 2011 / Gettysburg Times By Colonel Brian D. Prosser

On September 11, 2001, I was serving in the Pentagon. Today, I am deployed in Afghanistan and serving alongside approximately 130,000 other U.S. and Coalition service members. Yes, one could say that 9/11 holds a special, almost reverent, significance to me. To simply say that 9/11 has affected hundreds of thousands of military members misses the point, and underestimates its impact. The attacks of 9/11drastically changed our lives and those of our families.

It is hard to believe ten years have passed since the events of that terrible day shocked the world. Do you still remember the ashes and the smoke, the complete devastation of the World Trade Center - the black void - the crevice in the Pentagon, the scorched field in Shanksville, Pa.?

As it unfolded, we didn't want to believe it was true. And as it washed over us, the pictures, the destruction, it was almost too much to imagine; not in THIS country. If there is one city in this country we love to hate, it's New York City. But on that day we simply loved New Yorkers, we ached for them - and admired them for their character in dealing with the devastation.

Do you remember the shrines, the memorials, the flowers, the pictures, the poems, and the thousands of people who converged on Ground Zero to just be closer and to hope above hope that their loved one, friend, or colleague had somehow been spared?

The temptation is to look back, to remember our lost in sadness and in silence. We have labeled it a tragedy. But it was far more than that. Merriam-Webster defines tragedy as "a disastrous event." Another source adds that a tragedy involves a, "distressing loss or injury of life." Distressing, hmm - how about wanton, unjustifiable, shameless and indefensible? Nineteen al-Qaida terrorists murdered almost 3,000 innocent men, women and children, and it is right to honor and mourn them. But it is also important, and right, to remain committed to ensuring that men never again get the opportunity to murder innocents as they did just ten years ago.

Do you remember the firemen? When the first plane hit the tower, there were no firemen on the scene. Yet by the time the towers crumbled under the heat of the fire, over 300 of them died inside, many of them being blessed by a priest or a minister as they entered the buildings - in fact 343 firemen were murdered inside those towers. Some have said that those men were thrown into the situation and were made into heroes that day. I disagree. I don't think they were made into heroes that day; I think they were simply discovered that day. They were heroes long before they entered the towers. They were there all the time, among us.

For over thirty years, I've been a soldier and among heroes. And for the last ten years, be it here in Afghanistan, in Iraq, back in the States and elsewhere in the world, there have been many heroes, and not just those in uniform.

I know that Afghanistan no longer resides on the front pages of our newspapers. And I appreciate that the economy, lost jobs, the debt debate, and other important affairs which affect the daily lives of Americans have overshadowed this war. Having been here in Afghanistan for 11 months, I can assure all Pennsylvanians that their service men and women know why they are here. We understand the formidable challenges yet to overcome, and yet also appreciate the success that we've encountered along the way.

I don't know whether it will all work out here in Afghanistan. Who really does? I admit that there are real and substantial difficulties in working to inform, educate, and change a culture and society so different from ours. But I also believe that we're making an incredible difference in the lives of many Afghans. We may save a lost generation of young Afghan men and women who weren't given the opportunity to learn because of Taliban. In the last 20 months, we have taught more than 100,000 Afghan National Security Force soldiers and policemen to read and write at a 1st grade level. This initiative and so many others take time, resources, but most of all, people. We've spent billions of dollars, millions of man-hours and lost incredible and courageous people along the way. Many tears have been shed the last 10 years for those lost fighting to help ensure another 9/11 does not occur.

I am reminded of a newspaper article I read several years ago that was written about the Rangers killed in Grenada. It seems appropriate on this day:

No phrases can fill the void or soothe the hurt left by the loss of young men's lives, however worthy the cause for which those lives were given.

Hymns and speeches in praise of patriotism and bravery, in celebration of skill and daring, pale as platitudes when compared to the acts and attitudes they are meant to honor.

In the end it comes down to the lump in the throat, the glistening in the eye, the choke in the voice - the search for something to say that can't be said, but can only be expressed in the gushing forth of the innermost feelings.

As in all battles and all wars, the final ceremony is accompanied not by the roll of drums, but by the fall of tears.

Maybe that's what this day is about. Not so much the waving of the flag as our looking upon it with reverence, appreciating the ideal it stands for. Not so much the public proclamations as the quiet moments by ourselves, remembering those who died so needlessly at others' hands. Not so much by sounding the war cry as by the fall of tears.

I am proud to be a soldier and to serve with heroes, and I am honored to call Pennsylvania my home. On this 10th anniversary of 9/11, I ask that you remember those we lost on 9/11, those lost fighting for freedom in the years since, and those who continue to work to prevent such murder again.

Colonel Brian D. Prosser is a 30-year Army veteran currently serving as the Deputy Chief of Staff in NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan in Kabul. He and his family currently live in Springfield, Va. He is a native of York Springs, Pa., and a 1978 graduate of Bermudian Springs High School. He graduated from the Army War College, Carlisle, Pa., in 2007

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