Editor's note: This piece was originally written in 2017 and while some things have changed, the sentiment and the reminder in our daily lives hasn't.
Another September rolls in as the military community sends more service members downrange amid increasingly-difficult-to-navigate political rhetoric. As our parade of never-ending political coverage briefly gives way to our annual 9/11 remembrance tributes, I am left wondering how the country needs a day to remember when the military community lives a daily reminder.
As a child, fall meant friends and delicious food and the excitement of a new year against the backdrop of a cooling southern heat. Then, my freshman year of college, fall was forever altered when planes flew into tall buildings in New York, the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and a field in Pennsylvania. We saw the best in people as first responders dug through rubble and strangers comforted each other through a blinding grief.
That day took on an emerging importance for me personally when I met and then married a soldier. Multiple combat tours, countless separations and several moves dictated by the needs of the Army made our country's efforts in combat zones across the globe an integral part of our daily life.
Political Views or Service
Each year, as summer winds down, movies and TV specials emerge to honor and remember the events of 9/11. As the years go by, those efforts seem to be increasingly shaped by current political events and opinions made possible by the distance between the ongoing conflict and the average US citizen.
A few years ago, in a conversation with a family friend, my New York-born husband was asked if he "agreed" with the war he was fighting. With a confused tilt of his head, I watched him trying to process the question. "Service doesn't require my agreement," he eventually answered.
With an ongoing war and the politics of Washington D.C. framing much of the media conversation about 9/11, it is impossible to escape the implications for my military family. How will the president’s mandates impact deployed troops? Will North Korea’s threats cause more deployments and uncertainty? What about pay raises?
A Slow Slide into History
It seems inconceivable to think that this year's crop of high school freshman will learn about the events of September 11 as an historical event that occurred before they were born, as if it were as done and over with as the Civil War or the Louisiana Purchase. It falls in stark contrast with the fact that our military families are still on war time footing as a result of that historical event.
For me, 9/11 is the catalyst that spurred the defining moments of my life. It drove the conversation with my then-boyfriend about how he planned to make the military a career because he couldn't imagine getting out while there were still people being deployed to combat zones. It spurred the separations and intense training required of a Special Forces assignment. It set in motion the events that led to my husband's vehicle being blown up downrange and, later, our 4-year-old asking why bad men wanted to kill his daddy.
That single day in September nearly 15 years ago, backed by untold hours of indoctrination and training by terrorists, impacts my family every day as we navigate a life defined by service.
Inevitably, among the talking heads evaluating how far we've come from 9/11 there will be a few who talk of "moving on" and decrying the desire to hold onto tragedy. There will be speeches and ceremonies. Some will grieve, some will use the opportunity to make a point and others will participate as a part of processing this sense of vulnerability that has become an integral thread in American society.
And we'll move forward.
We'll enjoy cool fall air and colorful leaves. Our kids will head back to school. Pumpkin 'everything' will start to fill the grocery store shelves. Families like mine, living the daily realities of a country not-quite-at-war, will continue to experience that constant, underlying reminder that there is a price to be paid for the ability to set aside one day to honor and remember.
Kristen Smith is an army wife, storyteller, boy mama, enthusiastic (if not entirely talented) cook and community builder.
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