There are a handful of moments in your life that you can look back on and know it was a life-altering decision. A moment that makes you wonder, “Where would I be today if that did not happen?” That moment for me is one I share with millions of others.
I will never forget standing there in science class in my senior year of high school, watching the second plane crash into the World Trade Center. I will always remember how confused and scared I was. The overwhelming sadness that came over me when I watched our fellow Americans jump from a burning building to their deaths.
Everything I learned from World War I, World War II, Vietnam and all the other conflicts came rushing to the forefront of my mind. All the lives we lost during those wars and how they were such hard-fought battles. I knew immediately that my country was going to need people to fight for her. I was never more certain about what I had to do.
“I am going to graduate high school early and join the Marines!” Well, that was easier said than done. I was immediately told no from our principal, and when I asked our school board at a meeting, I was told no there as well. But I was determined to make it happen, so I did not let that stop me. I went to our city officials and around the community petitioning for support. I was able to get the town and local government on my side, and with their backing I again went to the school board to request an early graduation.
After seeing the groundswell of support I had been able to generate, they relented and granted me my request. I had to take a couple of extra tests, but it was no problem. I was handed my high school diploma in January of 2002 and joined the United States Marine Corps.
After boot camp, I attended a few schools and ended up with 1st Recon Battalion, and our unit was one of the first on the ground in the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. I ended up doing two more deployments with my unit to Iraq. After my four years in the Marine Corps, I continued my service to our country as a security contractor working for different U.S. government agencies for 10 years, but I will reserve those stories for another time.
In the days and weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, something truly remarkable happened. We as Americans came together as one. People from all over the country were pouring in to do whatever they could to help. Even from a small town like mine, some of our volunteer firefighters went to assist. Strangers were hugging strangers in the middle of the street. Those petty arguments and differences did not mean a thing and were quickly forgotten.
Our nation being attacked that September day was a travesty that will forever be in my mind and heart. It was a moment that forever changed the course of our entire nation. As I reflect on the years that have passed, I realize something horrible has taken place.
The unity created after those horrendous attacks on our country has been lost. Over those years, we began dividing, bickering and fighting with each other. At one point, we were one voice, one team and one America fighting for our freedoms and values. Now we fight against each other.
I hope to see America come together once again. This year as a nation remembering the attacks on 9/11, I challenge every one of you to be a part of the solution. Reach out with an open hand and not a fist; have patience, be positive, love more and hate less. America is the greatest nation in the world with endless opportunities. Do not let petty differences stop you from achieving greatness.
In the Marines, we have this acronym “PMA.” It stands for “Positive Mental Attitude.” Even when you are in the worse of conditions imaginable, your mind is the greatest weapon you have. You can make a change and bring civility and unity back to America, but it must start with you and your mindset.
I love my country and my fellow Americans. I know how fortunate I am to be an American. I do not take our freedoms for granted. I will always stand and fight for you and this great nation. Never forget. Semper Fidelis!