The Two Decades Since 9/11 Marks A Career For Many In Military

This week’s Courier Herald column:

It’s been two decades.  Twenty Years.  A lot has changed, as it does when time marches on.

A lot will be written and said about this anniversary of 9/11. The images and news coming out of Afghanistan will ensure that. 

There will be many questions that continue to be asked from our leaders about our exit strategy, and the repercussions of many decisions made.  These must not only be asked, but in time, they must also be fully answered. 

In this space, however, I’d like to focus on the women and men who have been serving in our armed forces during this twenty-year span.  Between Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as occasional other hot spots around the world, those who chose military service as a career – all volunteers – have been on a constant war footing. 

There is one particular service member on my mind as I write this.  My cousin retired as a Commander from the U.S. Navy Reserves a couple of weeks ago after 29 years of service.  While I’m quite proud of her I won’t share her name here, as this is largely a political column.  I don’t want to conflate my opinions with hers or her service.

I was fortunate, however, to attend a program at the Army War College with her as she finished her degree there three summers ago.  The Commandant’s National Security Program allows for nominated civilians to embed with graduate students for a week to hear their perspective during leadership seminars, as well as to provide a civilian point of view to the discussions.

Those completing their degrees came from all branches of the military, and also included officers from other NATO countries, as well as a few members who serve civilian government agencies.  For the most part, however, the students were at the Army level rank of Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel. 

Almost all had been in service since 9/11.  They had served under at least three Presidents – Bush, Obama, and Trump, with some dating back to the Clinton Administration.  During that summer of 2018, policy and personnel changes within the Trump administration seemed to have more questions than answers as America was clearly changing our relationships with NATO, our allies, our trade partners, and with our enemies.

What I recall most vividly from conversations with her and her classmates, both in structured seminars and in informal discussion, was the focus on the mission at hand from the military leaders.  They were keenly aware of the politics involved, but they had jobs to do. 

Political winds come and go.  At any point in time, there is only one Commander In Chief.  Their job, which they had accepted long ago, was to execute missions based on orders given. 

Did they have personal opinions about the political topics of the day?  Absolutely.

Did those opinions affect how they did their jobs?  Not directly, or at least, not visibly. 

These weren’t new recruits.  They were those who had chosen service as a career choice.  Their program was further preparing them to be the ones at the highest levels of command. 

They would have to make decisions that would be life and death for those under their command, and for those of us they took an oath to protect.  They seemed to keenly understand this, and had already experienced changing administrations and policies at least twice.

While the industries of media and politics were working overtime to react (and overreact) to every change made by the Trump administration, it was refreshing to see the group of current and future military leaders calm and unfazed by the same events.  They had their missions.  Reacting to the 24-hour news/spin cycle wasn’t part of it.

I look forward to catching up with my now retired cousin to discuss recent events, among other things.  I’m sure she’ll have strong opinions. (it’s a family trait.)

But on this anniversary of 9/11, I find comfort that in the current chaos, there are those like her and those I got to spend a week with three summers ago.  Those that have accepted a burden to complete the mission, and to remain focused on that despite the ever changing winds of politics and public opinion. 

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