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After 9/11, drawn to serve in the war on terror

We asked readers tell how their lives were changed by Sept. 11 and its aftermath. Here, in their own words, are some of their stories.

Name: Patrick Weir
Age: 40
Hometown: Montgomery, Ala.

I had a lot of plans on September 10th, 2001. School, a girlfriend, traveling. On September 11th my plans changed.

I am a Flight Medic in the United States Air Force Reserves. I had trained for this type of thing for several years. I never thought it would happen, and when it did, it was much worse that I'd been trained to expect. I realize now that I had no frame of reference before this event.

Since then, I have been to Afghanistan and Iraq bringing home the wounded. I have seen men, women, children, soldiers and enemy combatants. I have helped take care of them all.

These events and this mission forced me to put up or shut up almost immediately. I have seen the aftermath of attacks. I have held the hand of a scared brother or sister, broken into pieces, many miles from home. I have seen airplanes stacked to the ceiling with human beings in the depths of misery. I have seen some who will never return. I will carry them with me forever.

What can I take? What is the price of war? Who can you trust? I have answered some of these questions and some have no answer. I am a medic. I am part of the solution. The main thing that I have learned from all of this is what blind rage can do. It brings nothing but suffering.


Name: Steve Brennemann, TSgt USAF
Age: Not supplied
Hometown: Belleville, Ill.

At the time that the World Trade Center was destroyed I was a Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force. I had been in the Air Force for ten years. Most of that time had been spent at Scott AFB and at Elkhorn, a small Detachment of Offutt AFB.

The year just before had been spent in Ui Jong Bu, South Korea working for the 2nd Infantry Division. With that exception my Air Force career had been sleepy. I went to work, came home, raised my children and occasionally had to go on "business trips" lasting between one and four months.

Korea was my first short tour and my first taste of a combat unit. The taste was bad. I was happy to go home in 2001 and get back to my nice boring routine.

Then September happened. For the first time in my life I looked up and saw a sky free from jet contrails. I saw people jumping out of windows and knew that it wasn't part of a movie. I saw jet airliners hitting an oddly familiar skyline and a building that I had never been in, but whose shape was more familiar to me than the shape of my own, newly purchased home.

I had to explain to my daughters why all this was happening and what it meant for our family. What it meant was that, for the first time in my ten-year career I was expected to be a soldier and not an armchair Airman. The President told us to be ready. We never needed an explanation as to why.

The changes came fast and hard. We got a physical conditioning program with teeth. We got convoy and weapons training. We deployed with the Army, Marines and even the Navy. I heard the term Purple Suiter for the first time.

The changes are still happening. I have two campaign medals now and have met and worked with people from every continent on the planet. I have traveled more in the past five years than in the first ten.

I have seen the work we have done in Afghanistan and Iraq first person, laid some of the bricks myself. We have done more good there than the media has reported. We are laying the foundation of a new Middle East and a new world. That takes time, sweat, tears and blood.

For America, it will take patience. I never looked for war. It found me all on its own.

I am amazed by my family's ability to endure the long hours, the incessant deployments and the constant worry. We do not do this for the money. We do it for our families. We do it so that our children will have a better world to live in than we did.

I do it for all my children: the ones stateside, the young Airmen that serve under me and those young Afghanis and Iraqis that I have come to love as my own. I continue to serve. As long as I have something to contribute and can accomplish the mission I will continue to.

(Please note this submission is uniquely my opinion and should not be construed to be the opinion of the United States Air Force.)

Name: Andrea Rochefort
Age: 27
Hometown: Brandon, Fla.

The events of September 11, 2001, changed my life forever. At the time I was 22 years old, slowly making my way through college and working part-time.

My boyfriend John and I had been dating for about 2 years. He was 4 years older than I, also in college. We knew we wanted to earn our degrees, begin our careers, get married and settle down. But we weren't really working towards our goals.

On the morning of 9/11, I turned on the “Today” show to get my morning news - and there it was. I sat with my mouth open, tears flowing with shock.

John was sleeping. I remember running to him and waking him up with the news. He didn't believe at first of course. But then he saw the emotion in my eyes.

About 2 weeks later, he asked me if I would be mad if he joined the Army. I laughed at first, mainly because he was against violence in every way, a modern-day hippie of sorts. When I thought of the Army, I just thought of guns. But he was serious. He had to do something to defend the country and this was the way.

I told him I wanted him to do whatever would make him happy. He said it wasn't just for him, it was a decision that would help our future together, especially to be financially stable, and for the security of America.

He instantly turned into a man before my eyes. He had such passion and resolve. He knew it was his calling. He signed up to join the 82nd Airborne Division, and left for Basic Training in January. I remained in our hometown and graduated from college.

When he finished Basic and AIT and was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he proposed. We were married by the Justice of the Peace the next January. Two weeks later he left for Iraq. He was gone for 4 months. When he returned, I moved up to Fayetteville and we moved in together.

In August we had a real wedding ceremony to celebrate with our friends and family. Three days after that, he was gone again to Iraq, this time for 7 months. He returned safely. John recently ended his 4-year commitment, and is now in the military intelligence field as a consultant.

We are so fortunate to have such wonderful friends and family who helped us through the tough times. I couldn't have asked for a more loving husband. He is my rock. I admire him in every way. He did something because he knew someone had to. He was not going to sit back and not defend our country's freedom.

The events of 9/11 changed our lives by opening our eyes, making us live in not only our own reality, but the world's reality, and not take anything for granted, especially our rights and freedoms.

How blessed we are to be Americans. And how blessed am I to have such a selfless man in my life, John D. Rochefort, Jr.


Name: Sgt. Victor A. Martinez
Age: 46
Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.

I am a 46-year-old man, a father of two boys and a National Guardsman. 9/11 changed everything in and about my life.

Since then, I have been mobilized 3 times with a tour in Iraq and 2 tours for homeland defense. My youngest son wanted to take a stand against terrorism and joined the Navy Seebees and is currently with ground forces in Iraq.

I have seen over 3/4 of my company killed or wounded, lost many good friends in battle and had to come home and try to put my life back together. I have been married 4 years and have been home for 11 months of it. I'm going back to Iraq next July and I don’t have a good feeling about making it home alive.


Name: Lt. Joshua Archer
Age: 23
Hometown: Athens, Ga.

I joined Army ROTC on September 9, 2001, in order to become an Army Officer. When those events unfolded in front of me while sitting in my Freshman Economics class I realized why I was put here.

For the last five years I have trained and studied to become the best officer that I can. I sit now on the eve of my first deployment to Iraq and look back at the day that gave all soldiers a meaning and a cause to fight for.

When I am 80 I need to look back at my life and say that I gave all for my country. I have lost friends to war and seen the effects of year long deployments to families. Yet in the end September 11, 2001 is a day that gave my life meaning.

We are no longer just idle in our daily life - we are training and preparing to fight a determined enemy that daily sends us threats of impending danger.

I find it hard to watch as America goes about their daily lives and forgets about that day. It breaks my heart to see them complain about mundane problems when my men are dying on battlefields around the world.

I wish they would remember why we do what we do, and realize that we all volunteered to do this. But in the end I do this for the man to the left and right of me.

When I go to bars I realize that my thoughts are on my upcoming year in Baghdad while everyone else’s thoughts are on how to have a good time that night.

War is not a constant thought or concern for them and I love that. I love that I can take that from them and carry the burden for them so that they might live a peaceful life with a family and never see the things that a soldier in war sees. I love this country and thank God daily for the gifts he gave me in order to protect her.

Name: Linda Sedillo
Age: 49
Hometown: Richmond, Va.

My youngest son was a 9th grader on 9/11. His patriotism runs very close to the surface and I remember wanting to go and take him out of school that morning just so I could hug him. Instead, I chose to let him be with his friends and spent my day comforting coworkers.

At the end of that day, I pulled into the driveway to find my son waiting with HIS arms open to give me the same hug I wanted to deliver to him earlier in the day.

Because of 9/11, I'm now waiting for that same son to come home for a visit before he is deployed. The events of 9/11 strongly contributed to his decision to join the U.S. Army.

That day, along with his patriotism and desire to set a strong example for his nephew, set the stage for the events that will shape the rest of our family's lives. I no longer wait to do those things that I said I would make time for later - photography, visiting places with my husband, spending quality time with my older son and grandson.

The events of 9/11 have made me work harder at finding more personal balance in my life. While my job is still important, I find myself working harder at being a good family member and neighbor. I take better care of myself and have made more time to care for the world around me.

At this point, all I can do is take heart in the fact that the Army has given my son excellent training and that he will deliver the results they are counting on.

In the meantime, I'll plan on waiting in the driveway with my arms open....


Name: Capt. John Michael Morris
Age: 27
Hometown: Corpus Christi, Texas

When 9/11 happened I was a 22-year-old registered nurse. I was watching CNN while it was occurring, and I remember seeing that 2nd plane circling in the distance, slowly closing in, and then colliding with the tower.

My life plan up until that point only aspired to the party lifestyle. The effect of 9/11 really didn't sink in immediately. Over the next two years as America went to war and our young soldiers died, I began to question how much I was willing to sacrifice for a way of life that I enjoyed so much, and how much others had sacrificed without even being asked to.

I quit a lucrative private-nursing job and joined the Air Force as an ER nurse. I took a $40,000 pay cut and moved to San Antonio.

My first tour was spent in Balad, Iraq. We saw thousands of traumas, and were the main casualty collection point during the battle for Fallujah. We were mortared daily and I spent day after day staring at young men who were mangled and burned beyond comprehension, but just kept asking "how's my buddy?" or "when can I get back out to the field?" It makes a lasting impression upon you.

Now I am serving a tour here in Baghdad, and I have realized that what led me to this point is this: 3,000 people were murdered on 9/11. And scores of the nation’s young men and women left their lives behind to sacrifice so much to secure and protect the country that they love. More than I have sacrificed. Namely, that I could not in good conscience continue to take advantage of a way of life that so many have sacrificed their own lives to preserve.

So my career and life aspirations are to now watch over the men and women under my command and to give the dying, wounded and sick service members the finest nursing care that I can.


Name: Sherri Kilian
Age: 41
Hometown: Charlotte, N.C.

When I met my husband, he was a lieutenant in the Navy. When we got engaged, he decided to leave the Navy so that he would not be an absentee father to our future children. His dad was active-duty Navy as he was growing up and was always gone.

After 9/11, my husband immediately went into the Navy Reserves. He felt very strongly about defending our country and standing up to terrorism.

Our daughter was born in November of 2004 and shortly after her birth, my husband was deployed to Iraq. He returned when my daughter was 11 months old. Three and a half months after his homecoming, we got the call he was deployed to Afghanistan for one year.

My daughter is now 19 months old and my husband has been gone over half of her short life. A minor sacrifice by comparison. We are very blessed not to have been directly affected by 9/11. We didn't lose any of our loved ones.

I am extremely proud of my husband and his patriotism. He is paying homage to the memories of those who perished on 9/11 and its aftermath. The victims of 9/11 will never be forgotten and we should never forget the hard lessons learned on that day.

Name: Christine Steadman
Age: 41
Hometown: Eugene, OR

We live a simple, unassuming life in Eugene, Oregon. Simple family life, ordinary professions within locally owned companies. For pleasure we enjoy the many offerings in Eugene - whether it be local events or the convenience of being only one hour way in all directions from either the ocean, the mountains or the larger “night life” of a larger metropolitan area.

I remember being at the office working as usual when someone heard over the radio about the first plane hitting the first tower. Someone turned on the TV located in the company break room and we would gather for a few minutes for the updates and sporadically disperse.

Many of us watched in horror the second plane hit the tower - almost re-running it in our minds as certainly not being a real-life event as it was so unbelievable. We were across the country from New York but it felt as if it was happening across our own town.

It was largely due to 9/11 that our son, then 19, joined the Army and was later deployed to Iraq. If not for 9/11 I am certain he would have chosen another venue in life. His choice of serving his country through an enlistment in the Army has molded him to the brave, respectful and honest individual that he is today.

He has a pride in his own country that is deeper than possibly otherwise would have been, and while he has always been a compassionate individual, he now has a greater sense of duty to the “underdog” be it within his own homeland or others.

As for me, music before 9/11 had its patriotic anthems such as Bruce Springsteen's “Back in the USA,” but after 9/11 the songs seemed to have a deeper meaning, more personal. Toby Keith's “American Soldier” and John Michael Montgomery's “Letters from Home” cannot play completely without at least one tear in my eyes being formed.

They remind me of my son and his fellow troops, all the duty and work they do to protect the U.S.A. and Iraqi people.

To wear Red, White and Blue is no longer just a fashion decision or done for the 4th of July. It is a proud reminder to myself that I am an American and a solemn reminder of all those people we lost on 9/11 to a senseless act of terrorism.

Every time I see a person in military, a policeman or firefighter at the local mall I want to go up and thank them for their services. I realize that they more than likely were not personally involved that fateful day, but that if something similar was to happen again, it is them that would be ready for action.

Our son is preparing to re-deploy, not today, but in the near future. 9/11 created a shockwave across the nation that I do not think will ever stop trembling. We are more aware in our day to day activities to another situation possibly re-enacting within our own communities and also more grateful to all the little things we may have thought insignificant prior.