9/11 Changed My Life Forever And Taught Us lessons About Our Nation We Should Never Forget

I used to wonder when my father told his war stories — discussing the hardships he and friends endured during a time that felt so foreign to me — what it would be like to live in a time when everybody needed one another. To live in a time when a nation stood united against a common enemy state and people worked together to ensure the safety of their own nation.

My father served in the Marine Corp during WWII and the Korean War. I would listen to his stories and see the look in his eyes when he remembered friends long gone who lost their lives on battlefields so far from home. On September 11, however, our enemy wasn’t a state actor, like Japan or Germany, but an ideology followed by people who lived in the shadows among us.

September 11 was our war. It is still our war. It changed everything for me and ultimately changed the direction and course of my life. I believe it did that to everyone.

For me the desire to do something about what happened that fateful day was born out of my childhood growing up in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I was very familiar with Islam, extremism and that region of the world.

I also remember being a little girl playing in the open markets in Jeddah. I can still remember the spices, the freshly baked pita bread, Falafels frying in pans along the streets, the fish market and the world that seemed so vastly different than the one I came from in America. I remember the comfort of hearing the call to prayer being sung from the mosque in the early morning hours and wondering which Imam’s voice was being carried by the wind as it mixed with the smells of the mysterious Red Sea. Those sounds and smells brought me comfort and familiarity that only a child can understand.

So on that morning when the planes first struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 I was stunned but not completely surprised. I was living in California at the time and it was extremely early in the morning when I received a call from my mother saying that the first plane had struck the World Trade Center. At that point in time we thought it might just be an accident but then when the second plane hit the north tower in my heart I knew that it was terrorist attack and one that would change my life.

By the time the plane hit the Pentagon and then the last of the planes crash in a field in Pennsylvania, most of the world realized that this was a terrorist action that would fundamentally change not only our nation but the way we operate in the world forever. 

I needed to understand. We needed to understand why these mainly Saudi men would follow an ideology and a leader so extreme that they would be willing to sacrifice not only their lives but the lives of innocent people. Their actions would drag us into seemingly endless wars and lead to the deaths of U.S. service members, civilians and eventually a restructuring of our geopolitical system in the Middle East and South Asia.

I decided to be a journalist. I went back to school. I trained. I went to work covering local news, then border and national security and eventually became a Pentagon war correspondent.

I traveled to Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the world year after year, sometimes twice a year for months documenting stories, interviewing troops and civilians in an attempt to understand what happened on that fateful day. I covered terrorism, extremism and have spent my life trying to understand this new and dangerous enemy.

In one of the most dangerous regions of Afghanistan I met my future husband, who at that time was fighting the enemy and doing his part to honor those who lost their lives. He didn’t want the enemy coming back to America – he wanted to fight them on their own turf.

He was part of the roughly one-percent of American volunteers who were willing to go to battle to protect everything that makes our nation the envy of the world. Then in April, 2011, in a direct battle with an enemy terrorist in Afghanistan, my husband lost his eyesight. The enemy, however, lost his life.

I ask him often if he would do it again. He says yes. He is my hero and I know his actions have saved many lives.

September 11, was the beginning of our generations war. It wasn’t my father’s war but it was just as significant in the sense that we came to a realization that we have to rely on one-another to protect and keep our nation safe for future generations of Americans.

As I watch what is happening to our nation now it breaks my heart. We are becoming each others enemies. It shouldn’t be this way. Our actions now on the streets of Portland, Seattle, Washington D.C., Chicago and Kenosha, Wisconsin, just to name a few, don’t reflect the greatness of our nation and the goodness that we are capable of.

September 11, did change everything for me and I know it did for so many others. I still live with those changes and that day in my heart.

I live not only with the horror of that day but with the incredible patriotism and love that we showed one-another the weeks, months and years following that horrific attack.

That’s who we are as Americans. That’s where we need to be again.

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