Thirteen years ago, today, I was the Assistant Chief Recruiter for the Naval Reserve Recruiting Command, Area Northeast, located at the Naval Observatory in Northwest Washington, DC. That morning I was sitting at my desk when one of our officers stuck his head into our office and announced that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. The rest of the day was surreal. I was the Duty Officer for that week, which meant my responsibilities in emergency situations included coordinating with our senior commands in the Washington, DC area and accounting for all of our Sailors. Our Sailors were spread out from DC – in Pittsburgh to the West, Norfolk to the South, and Maine to the North. Getting in touch with the majority of them was not a challenge; the bigger challenge was trying to contact our Sailors in the New York City and Washington, DC areas. Rumors were flying, the skies became eerily quiet, and we felt strangely out of control. Communications with my senior commands were confusing, at best. The following day, when we reported to work, the happy-go-lucky guards had been replaced with very serious, Uzi-carrying guards.
A Tragedy and Its Aftermath
As I reflect on that very sad day, I think about all of the people we lost who were simply living their lives, as well as the many heroes who sprang into action to save them. Since then, in the conflicts that have been waged, Warriors have fallen both on the battlefields and off. The civilian casualties around the world have also been devastating.
In the wake of the initial attacks, our society has also paid a price: we have become very suspicious of everything and everyone. Especially everyone. Whether it’s an actual fact or a perceived shift, people appear to be much less trusting of one another than they were at the turn of the century. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, as more evidence of governments spying on their citizens and other governments comes to light. The growth of our technological capabilities certainly plays a factor, but after something as catastrophic as the events of September 11th suspicion is a natural (and, perhaps intended) outcome of fear and grief.
As a retired Navy Master Chief, I am all too aware of how often civilians direct their suspicion and mistrust towards members of the military. Given how few Americans have actually served in any branch of the Military or Coast Guard, I am not surprised that they often don’t comprehend how skilled and talented these service members are. All of this culminates in the vicious cycle that seems to plague service members once they leave the military, where they attempt to move into civilian life only to find that it’s become hostile to their pasts or untrusting of their future abilities.
Look, we’ve never lived in a perfect country. But it’s my belief that, prior to September 11th we could collectively work together to solve problems. I am perhaps most upset that such cooperation has, since that day, all but vanished from our society.
We Can Change Direction
I do, however, believe there’s hope that we can right our course. Instead of finding and concentrating on the differences between that exist between us, I think that if everyone looks at what they have in common, then we can find solutions to all of our challenges and stem that rising tide of suspicion that only serves to tear us apart.