Like many Americans, 9/11 was a profoundly affecting moment in my life – it was a stark reminder of our mortality, the world culture we live in, and the existence of those who seek nothing more than to kill in the name of their beliefs. I was in school when it happened; my teachers told us all to stay in our classrooms, and they turned on the television so we could watch the coverage. Seeing the World Trade Center towers in flames, and eventually collapse, had a powerful effect on me; I was suddenly reminded of just how unsafe I really was, and that this country that I love so much had enemies. To that end, not long after I graduated, I signed up for the US Army; I wanted to combat terrorism and be part of the War on Terror. Regardless of faith or political affiliation, I wanted to contribute to the fight against non-state organizations that simply lashed out in order to make people afraid of them.
Shortly after basic training, I was deployed to Afghanistan, an experience that shaped my own understanding of myself and my place in the world greatly. While there, I got to see the War on Terror from the other side of the fight. Far away from my family, home or anything familiar, I was struck by just how much suffering the Afghan natives also went through under the weight of the Taliban. It went a long way toward showing that terrorism affects everyone involved, and is not just an issue of one culture fighting against another. During my time there, I found myself working as a radio operator, dispensing news and current events to the Afghan people, as well as spreading information to help the transition process toward a legitimate government go more smoothly. I could see the effect that our work was having on the Afghan people; starving families were getting food, businesses were starting to thrive, and there was less of a feeling of oppression than they had under the Taliban. While the transition was tough, and there were plenty of hurdles, it turned out to be very productive by the end. Training Afghan citizens and police forces to be able to regulate themselves was a gratifying experience, as it made me feel less like an imperialistic, invading force and more an agent for freedom in the region. I actually made many friendships with Afghan citizens that I would interact with on a regular basis, and those moments where we were able to cross the cultural divide are ones I will cherish for the rest of my life.
The path my life has taken has been an interesting one, but ultimately extremely rewarding. Filled with a new sense of purpose and commitment after 9/11, I chose to not make that tragedy an empty one, turning it into an inspiration to make positive change in my life and the lives of others. While this deployment allowed me to be on the front lines to fight America’s enemies, it also allowed me to help rebuild Afghanistan to a more stable, equitable environment for its citizens. In my experience, the American occupation of Afghanistan, for all its faults, has had a positive effect on the Afghan people’s quality of life, and I am proud of the efforts I made toward that end. I was able to be a part of history and help others, and that is essentially how I want to use whatever skills and experience I cultivate throughout my life.