Thirteen years ago on September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists under the banner of Al-Qaeda hijacked four US airliners. Using them as guided missiles, they struck at the perceived heart of American military and economic might, toppling the twin towers of the World Trade Center, smashing through the rings of the Pentagon, and targeting Washington, DC with a final plane. What damage the final plane might have wrought is unknown - passengers and crew courageously fought back against the hijackers until the plane finally crashed near Shanksville, PA. Almost 3,000 Americans died in those attacks: military, civilian, and first responders. These were friends, neighbors, business men and women, police, fire, EMS, husbands, wives, daughters and sons, military, government service, and contractors.
In the thirteen years since, American has grown weary of constant threat assessments, military campaigns, and the toll of the War on Terror. The toll has indeed been high, currently standing at over 66,000 American casualties (~9,655 killed, ~56,422 wounded) and $5.4 trillion in spending. The United States has asked much of our military. Service members barely out of high school have sacrificed their lives, or watched as their friends and brothers in arms died beside them. The mental toll is mounting as well, surpassing 200,000 diagnosed cases of PTSD since 2001, and veteran suicides continue to rise each year. Our military has sacrificed their lives, futures, and families for what they believe in. They've done this in forgotten corners all across the globe.
Unfortunately, given the continued, and perhaps even enhanced threat presented today, it is extremely likely that the men and women of the military will continue to be called upon to continue sacrificing. In the current budget situation, those sacrifices may be even greater, as the threat continues but resources shrink in terms of both equipment and training for the troops and in compensation and benefits for their service. Similar cuts are happening to our first responders: police, fire, and EMS. The threat is real, and the likelihood of a confrontation with actors such as the Islamic State becomes more and more possible each day. This confrontation could take place thousands of miles from our shores, or it may take place down the street from your house. No matter where it occurs, our troops or our first responders will be asked to bear the brunt of the danger.
As you reflect today on the events of September 11th and the years since, honor and remember those who have sacrificed. You could do this through supporting charities, such as those we have profiled, or one of the many others who support our military and first responders. You could volunteer to serve with a local charity in your community. But above all, live your life in a way that those who sacrificed did not do so in vain. Prepare yourselves and your communities so that you can serve each other in trying times, whether terrorist attack or natural disaster. Reach out to others and build strong bonds that defy those who would seek our ruin. Live every day in a moral and ethical way and accept personal responsibility. Participate in your government - local, state, and federal. It matters not what side of the aisle you claim, whether left, right, or center. What matters is that the people of the United States live up to the ideals upon which the country was founded. Freedom, justice, equality - these ideals are a slap in the face to those who hate us.
Live your lives every day in a way that honors those who have sacrificed so much for this country - be they military, first responder, or civilian. They deserve no less.
"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt." – John Philpot Curran