On Sept. 11, 2001, I'd just started my fourth year of ROTC at Boston University. I was going to war whether I wanted to or not. I knew what was waiting upon my commission.
Everyone in my generation has asked and answered the question countless times, "Where were you on September 11?" The typical answer is geographical. Where you were physically attributes to your comprehensive Sept. 11 experience, of course, but try reflecting on where you were mentally and the arc of emotions you felt in the aftermath. I've found recounting those emotions cathartic.
That awful day I was stuck in my senior year of college. "Stuck" because I couldn't get a field commission, grab a rifle, and storm the battlefield in a blaze of glory. I had to finish school. I didn't know how to fire a military rifle. I didn't know who to attack. Like most, I was angry and confused and hopelessness ensued.
I was attending Boston University on a full Naval ROTC scholarship; the pay back upon my May 2002 commissioning would be at least four years of active duty. It couldn't come fast enough! Put me in coach!
I was on that scholarship because I wanted to go into the military, not solely for money. No one dragged me in kicking and screaming. My mother is an immigrant from Vietnam who lived in Saigon through the height of the Vietnam War. Thankfully, three days before the city fell, she was able to flee to Guam as a refugee and from there, she came to the U.S., who welcomed her with open arms and allowed her to start a new life. My father and his three siblings served here in the U.S. He was in the Navy, on small boat riverine operations during the Vietnam War.
I was raised on stories, admittedly I asked for them, had to beg for them in some cases, about war, conflict, "What was it like?" and always taught to be thankful for my freedom. I always put my hand over my heart during the Star Spangled Banner and when the family convened at "camp," a small cottage on a lake, I wanted to be the one to haul down the flag at the end of the day. Yes, we did that sort of thing! I was a patriotic little thing.
I was in an 8:30-11:30 class that fateful morning. During our break I went to the computer lab to get on the internet and check the news. No internet; not entirely surprising. I returned to class, and when it was over walked out of the building to find clusters of people with looks of confusion, their scowls, tears on their faces.
When I'd heard enough versions of what had happened to grasp the enormity, I went to my dorm and cried in private. It was as if America had lost her innocence.
How could the greatest, most prosperous country in all the land be so vulnerable? As a country, as a culture, as a people, as individuals, we had been so naïve to think we were untouchable. What about the people who had undoubtedly perished; those who might be trapped?
I'm no war-mongerer, preferring peaceful solutions to conflict when at all possible, but on that day I wanted someone to pay! I wanted the responsible parties dead. These were incredibly strong emotions for a 21-year-old girl. I knew what I'd signed up for in accepting this scholarship. My mentality about war and deployment had always been, "If we are going, I want to go." Now I just wanted to go, as if I'd known so many people in the towers and this was my war. I took it personally.
This fire in my belly would carry me though the school year, my warfare training, and then on to my first deployment.
We left San Diego in January 2003 and I was standing watch when the Tomahawks came streaming overhead on March 19. I was there well after the initial invasion ended on May 1. My first deployment, seven months long, was filled with uncertainty. Had I not had a fire in my belly from Sept. 11, I may not have come out sane. It was a tough time and in my darkest hours I had to be reminded of why I was there. As war raged on and we found no weapons and Hussein was caught and hanged, my resolve waned. My opinions on wars past are for another day.
So despite a feeling of sadness and helplessness, Sept. 11 took the small embers in my heart telling me to serve and protect and stoked the fire into a raging inferno. A similar feeling, I am sure, that many people who joined in the 9/11 aftermath had felt.
I am still angry. My country, my friends and brothers in arms have been entwined in two wars, with a possible third on the horizon as a result. Thousands of people died on Sept. 11 and thousands more since. I mourn them all, the families who lost them, the friends I served with, the Americans still affected today, and the innocents who have perished in the pandemonium the last 11 years have brought.
I still do and always will despise the cowards who did this. I honor those who choose to serve our great country, peacetime or wartime. Looking back I recall that the country was galvanized, united, politics aside, in the after-effects of Sept. 11.
I pray that we find this unity to stand together once more.
READ: PolicyMic's special 9/11 coverage featuring the stories of veterans.