As a Soldier Who Lost 30 Friends in Afghanistan, Here's Why I Refuse To Forget 9/11

More often than not, we like to look back on things and shine them up, pretend we felt different than we did. 

When I was in college, terrorists flew two airplanes into the World Trade Center. I remember what it was like to have those buildings as part of the skyline, the controversy over whether or not to release Spider Man because it would feature those buildings as part of the skyline, the little bodies jumping off the buildings, the smoke and confusion on the television set. I was at Yale, where they didn’t cancel classes – with my buddies, too busy getting wasted on Jack Daniels, weed, Adderall, and coke to see what was happening in its proper context. I figured the Rangers, Delta, SF, and the SEALS had things sewed up.

Why bother joining?

Six years later, I was in Afghanistan.  

The horrors of war – Abu Ghraib, torture, the realization that this wouldn’t be like the wars of my childhood, like Kosovo or Somalia – I had to take part, it would’ve been irresponsible not to. When you hear that call, the imperative of participation, you say “no” at your own peril. I joined.

We were in Iraq, 140,000 of us, and another 30,000 soldiers walking through valleys time forgot, speaking Pashto. My unit was on the border of Pakistan. We were still talking about that day, that moment which had changed so many destinies. I spent over a year in training, and by the time I got to my unit two guys I trained with had already died. Two that I knew of. By the time I left I’d lost count. Somewhere around 30 guys in total, guys I’d lifted glasses with, with whom I’d had meaningful encounters. Including strangers, uniforms in a line on a parade field, I’m sure the total would’ve been higher. People that could have just as easily been me, stories, inarticulate. Way too much information.

Word for word, translate what he’s saying.

I learned to tell my interpreters that I needed to hear what the tribal elders were saying, not what the interpreters thought I might want to hear. That was my war. Trying to look out for my soldiers, and sergeants, and officers, barely able to take care of myself, or the Afghans, or any of it.

So many events set in motion, one day over 10 years ago.

It’s fading into history, but I’ll never forget when my father burst into my room and told me, “New York is under attack.” I remember that, through the haze of drugs and ennui and the rest of it. Like it happened yesterday.

READ: PolicyMic's special 9/11 coverage featuring the stories of veterans.

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Adrian Bonenberger

Former paratrooper, infantryman. Author, essayist, blogger, freelance journalist.

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