Where were you on Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001? This day will live in infamy as does the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
The exact picture of where we were when we first heard or saw the news of these despicable acts remains imbedded in our minds.
On that fateful day, I wasn't in my usual work office -- I was in fatigues at a desert military base in the Southwest. Unlike most workers, my wardrobe and work location vary.
I lead a dual life -- one as the Executive Director of the Marian Helpers Center, a happily married man, and a proud grandfather. In my other life, I serve as a citizen soldier -- a lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts Army National Guard.
So, on Sept. 11, at 9 a.m. (EST), I called the Marian Helpers Center just to check in, only to be told by our switchboard operator, Ann, to catch the news on television. That's how I learned of the first crash and then observed on TV the remaining attacks on the World Trade Center, on the Pentagon, and in western Pennsylvania.
When I arrived at the base auditorium at 2 p.m., a 2-star general greeted the nearly 350 senior army officers present and invited us to join the chaplain in prayer. The general then said something that I will never forget. He said that he was especially thankful to God for being asked to participate in our conference. Otherwise, it's likely that he would have been in the affected South Wing of the Pentagon, along with several other presenters.
Each distinguished speaker -- while focused on his aspect of the conference -- then invariably mentioned God, Jesus, or mercy. What struck me so strongly was my deep admiration and trust in the competence, determination, and spiritual faith of our military leaders. Under the guidance of our president and other civilian authorities, they influence the current and long-term decisions of our military forces, which provide for the security of our country.
On the flight home into Boston's Logan Airport, my thoughts shifted to the safety and security of my family, friends, and work associates in the Berkshires. I thought of how our lives had just been changed forever.
Instead of driving home from the airport to my wife and family, though, I reported to my National Guard unit, where I spent most of the next two weeks. By the end of the third week after the terrorist attacks, many National Guard or Reservists in the U.S. had been called up for extended duty of up to six months, while the remainder were on alert. This means they can be called up at any time, with little or no notice.
Every soldier, sailor, airman, and Coast Guard person is always aware of this possibility. But none of us expected to be called upon to guard our own front door -- as part of President George W. Bush's Homeland Defense in the war against terrorism.
For many of the Reservists, this time of "duty and honor" will cause emotional, physical, and financial strain. The physical danger is the most obvious public concern, given the continuing threat of terrorism in our country. Behind that, however, are extended absences from spouses and families, and often a significant reduction in pay from civilian jobs. Further, while on active duty, Reservists cannot participate in vacations, business conferences, and other social events.
Many civilians in their hearts want to do something to show their support for our activated and deployed soldiers. I suggest a friendly and appreciative gesture to all our men and women in the armed forces. It would go a long way to help them cope with their fears and concerns about serving on the home front and abroad in this conflict. Show them whenever and wherever you see them that you appreciate their sacrifice.
If you have a neighbor whose family member is in uniform and has been deployed, ask what you can do to help. Even the smallest gesture, like shoveling snow from the driveway, doing yard work this spring, or making a meal would be appreciated.
Most of all, tell your neighbor or friend that you are praying daily for our servicemen and women. Consider, for example, praying the rosary in the car on your way to work, and then the Divine Mercy Chaplet on your way home. Also, remember to pray for President Bush and his advisors that they may lead this country and the world to a just and peaceful resolution in our fight against terrorism, both at home and abroad.
When this conflict is over and we return to a "new" level of normalcy, our Reservists will be returning to the work force. Many will be seeking new jobs during these tough economic times. Keep in mind that these men and women are trained to be a "force of one" in accomplishing their goals, while still functioning as an integral and selfless member of a team focused on achieving success. These are the exact qualities we expect and desire of all our employees.
What our servicemen and women in the military need most right now, though, is your strong support and prayer, as many of them serve faithfully in our Homeland Defense efforts. In your travels over the coming months, you may see them securing the public safety at our nation's airports and on our roadways. Whenever you do, please remember to pray for them. They are there for you and your fellow Americans.
As you support our National Guard and Reserve units in these various ways, remember that the citizen soldier is a great tradition that dates back to the origins of our country. (See the related story.) It is rooted in our firm belief of "One Nation under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All."
When we contrast these words representing our national purpose to the goals of the radical fundamentalists, it becomes very clear why we need to persevere in opposing the tyranny of terrorism. Our precious freedoms and our very way of life are at risk. I know that I speak for my fellow servicemen and women when I say, "Preserving these freedoms is worth the cost."