For the past 12 years, 9/11 has been a time to reflect on what is important in our lives, hope for peace and acknowledge the fact that there are people in this world who want to do us harm.
It’s an emotional anniversary for those who were at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania, and for the millions of Americans who watched the non-stop coverage on TV. While the initial shock of those terrorist acts has faded away for many of us, it is important to realize that it motivated an entire generation of Americans to answer the call to serve their country in the decade that followed.
There were several factors in my decision to join the Marine Corps, and although 9/11 was not as big of a reason as it was for some of my friends, it did play a role in my enlistment. Now, as I look at the young men and women who continue to serve in Afghanistan, I can’t help but notice that some of them were in kindergarten or first grade when I made my decision to be a Marine.
Marines salute during a flag raising ceremony at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Sept. 11, 2013. (Courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps)
Yes, time has passed since 9/11 and with it many of our collective wounds have healed. But we still have an obligation to support those who continue fighting the battles that stem from that day with policy and practice that will show future enlistees how much this country values service.
VA takes this obligation seriously and its dedication to Post 9/11 Veterans like me is sincere and significant.
I saw VA’s evolution of care for PTSD and TBI throughout the years, and saw the stigma associated with asking for mental health care end in many ways. Like almost one million of my peers, I used the Post 9/11 GI Bill to get a degree and improve my life after war. I also used the five years of free medical services every OIF, OEF and OND Veteran receives from VA during the time it took me to graduate. Military service wasn’t always easy, and I sometimes wonder if the sacrifices were worth it, but as I look back on the last 12 years I can see how the country has grown in its appreciation of those who join the military.
Staff Sgt. Yaireles Burgos, a chaplain assistant, speaks during the Bagram Community 9-11 Remembrance Service at Bagram Airfield. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)
Just as we will never forget the lives lost in New York City, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon, we should never forget those who rose to the challenge after the dust settled and made a commitment to keep the country safe and shift the battle zone abroad.