Six years ago I was living on the west coast in Monterey, CA. Six years ago I woke up, rolled out of bed, put on my army physical fitness uniform, grabbed some water, and turned the television onto Headline News. I saw the video images of one of the World Trade Center towers on fire and smoke rising. Then I saw the second plane hit.
I drove to the PT formation and fell in line with all of the other soldiers in training with me at the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey. There were all sorts of the rumors being passed back and forth along the rank and file. The rumors were fueled by uncertainty, concern, and fear. Some of us were from New York and Washington. The White House had been attacked. The Congress had been attacked. The Pentagon. More planes were in the air. No one knew where the President was, if he was okay, what would happen to our country.
And then of course, quite outside our concern for the people suffering, there was a lingering nervousness. We were going to war. That much we knew. Most of us had never heard of Al Qaeda or Bin Laden. But we knew that an enemy had revealed itself. And we knew that it was on us to respond.
Most of us joined for the benefits. To afford college. Somewhere in the back of our brains we understood what signing that contract meant. But outside of the mostly air war in Bosnia during the late 90’s, there really didn’t seem to be a chance of war until that day. So maybe some of us took that chance a bit lightly. Maybe on that morning when the images of those burning towers, the hole in the Pentagon, members of both parties of Congress singing “God Bless America” from the Capitol Building steps were played over and over, the gravity of that contract, that uniform we put on every day, hit us like it never had before.
Anger came later. First, we were nervous and unsure.
I was a Korean linguist. Our teachers, all of them Korean natives, played the Korean language news broadcasts all day long – aired on a loop with the rapid fire Korean language commentary, watching that second plane hit again and again, picking through the vocabulary and syntax, trying to understand.
I got my orders for Korea a few months later. It wasn’t much of a surprise, to be honest. I figured that’s where I would end up. But the Arabic linguists who were in my company were almost certainly going to accelerate their training and could count on being deployed at one point or another. I wanted to reach out to them and I felt guilty about not going with them. When I had enlisted, I put Arabic and Chinese down as my first choices. But Korean was the highest need language, required the most resources for training, and was considered the most difficult. On that morning, looking over at the Arabic linguists and realizing what was going to happen to them, I thought that it should have been me.
My heart goes out to them. Still. The last six years. Some of them never made it back. Hell, one of my soldiers in Korea died. I’ve since gotten out and I’m living in D.C. studying the law, sleeping in most mornings, watching football on the weekends, blogging at leisure, flirting with girls, walking around town listening to my ipod, and picking through the media filter to find some clue about what it’s like over there. The last six years. My brothers and sisters aren’t in control of their lives, living in the desert, and getting nowhere and sometimes dying.
All because of the tectonic shift of our political worldview from that one September morning.
God watch over them. I miss them.
Bring them home.