Reflections of an American Marine

Category: Americas, Faith & Spirituality Views: 3742

The terrorist attack that rocked our nation, tested our resolve, and changed the lives of so many altered the trajectory of many lives in ways too numerable to articulate in one essay.

I remember the eerie silence, thousand yard stares, and the uneasy tension that filled our Marine aviation control room upon hearing that our nation was under attack. Incomprehension paralyzed me as the realization that as a young Marine Corporal, I had no clue what to do next. I joined the Marine Corps because I wanted a share in the legacy, traditions, and respect that the United States Marine Corps had earned. I joined during a time of relative peace. It was a time when joining the military wasn't a cause for alarm or a bold declaration of wanting to fight, but nothing more than an alternative to college. The greatest challenge at that time in my life militarily speaking , was having to decide what would be served for lunch in the hanger that September afternoon.

I held the phone's receiver in my hand, looked away from the Domino's ad in the Yellow Pages, and stared blankly into space, mouth agape, as the news flowed over us with horrifying efficiency. We couldn't believe what we were hearing. I stood stock still heart pounding and sweat beginning to bead on my 20 year old forehead as confusion gave way to horror. Time seemed to slow down, it was as if my thoughts were running through water chest high, and although it seemed to take forever to get there, I eventually fell back on my training. My inner fire, that eternal flame I'm convinced all Marines share, blazed and at the core of my being I felt something quicken in me that even 10 years later I find it difficult to describe. I looked at my Master Sergeant whose eyes seemed to transform in that moment of clarity from the heat of his own furnace, and asked if it would be OK if I ran to the barracks and put on my uniform. Unable to speak he nodded and I fled the control room.

Many of the details of what happened next have been lost in the passage of adrenaline and time, but two actions I took remain. Halfway to the barracks I paused and dropped on one knee. I remember the wet grass on my knee, the tremble in my voice, and the overwhelming presence that called me to that moment of prayer. I don't remember the entire prayer that I made but I do remember asking God for help. I remember pleading for strength and resolve. I remember leaning on all the spiritual study and guidance I had received in the Church and hands-on with my Grandfather and pastor. I asked God through His servant Jesus Christ to allow me to make sense of this life altering event.

I burst into my room and dressed into my camouflage uniform at a speed and with a sense of urgency that hadn't been witnessed since my time at Parris Island. As I gripped the door knob preparing to leave the room, I decided in a moment of inspiration to call home. I was greeted with a tearful, panic stricken, plea for safety assurances from a mother afraid for her son. Knowing where I served and my proximity near the Pentagon heightened her terror. Painfully aware of how little time I had to return to my unit, I managed a choked up response indicating that I was OK and made a statement from pure instinct that I had never made or felt before. The statement that seemed to come out of now where and coalesced in that moment of time would go on to define the rest of my adult life. "Mom, I'm off to do what I get paid to do, tell everyone I love them."

I had come to the conclusion that although I was afraid and hadn't the faintest clue what would come next, I had decided and made up my mind that my country needed me and I was prepared to do whatever was necessary to defend our nation against this unknown enemy even if it meant my death. I was shocked I had uttered such a pronouncement, but I also knew that I believed that statement with every fiber of my body. 

The enormity of the events that shaped September 11, 2001 weighed down an entire nation. My unit stood eager and ready to do what we could and I witnessed many great things from my fellow Marines. Like many Americans, we found ourselves struggling within, painfully aware that although we were ready and willing, we were unable to assist and unable to make sense of all that we surveyed. We were on alert well into the night, the base closed, and our offers of assistance rejected.

Days later, I, like many other of my fellow Americans, attempted to find ways to cope with our national tragedy. I learned that those who attacked us claimed a religion and belief that I had almost zero familiarity. My way to cope was to find out who these people were, why they attacked us, and what they believed. I cloaked myself in righteous indignation, allowing my strength to come from the belief that I held moral and religious superiority. I couldn't protect America, I wouldn't be deployed to fight in our war, but I could learn as much as I could about the religion of our attackers and expose it to all who would listen and make it a part of my ministry to help console and heal the wounds of a bleeding nation against the threat of this foreign religion. 

The first chance I got, I went to my local bookstore and purchased a copy of the Qur'an. I set out to read it in its entirety prepared to highlight each and every wicked and vile testimony it gave. My heart was heavy, my passion extreme, and my zeal tremendous. What began as a mission to defame became a journey of transformation. I can still see myself 10 years ago sitting cross-legged in my barracks eyes wide and tears streaking my cheeks as all I thought, all I set out to do, and everything I believed changed. 

Terrorists, who commit crimes against humanity, may claim Islam as their inspiration for their actions, but it was quite obvious to me then as it is now, that what they profess with their mouths is nothing more than the deranged ranting of evil men and women. Islam is a beautiful religion practiced peacefully every day by over a billion people. The lesson of that time which is a lesson for all time, is that evil comes in many forms, and throughout the history of mankind, there have always been those willing to justify their crimes under the banner of ideology, religion, or political agendas. If we allow those voices of intolerance and hate to define who we are as a people, then we have truly allowed them to win. Terrorism has always been used as a means to influence, direct, and guide the masses toward a predefined objective. Small in number but very loud and able to garner the sought after attention of the mass media, these individuals steer our opinions as if we were puppets in their play. What I learned upon my own investigation changed me and the direction of my life profoundly. I continued to serve my country and was the same person I had always been. Although the religious affiliation changed on my dog tags, my passion for service and my dedication to the Marine Corps values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment never wavered. 

I decided then that I would no longer let the fanatics, extremists, and ideologues tell me what I should believe or how I should feel. Theirs by definition is a path devoid of the universal human longing toward justice and peace without fear. We have a choice. We can continue to accept the ranting of those whose aim is to divide and inspire mistrust and fear, or we can seek out the truth, ask questions, be objective, and willing to listen to those who appear to be different from ourselves. 

The challenge of 9/11, is not how well we cope, or how well we remember, but in how we move forward. What country and world will we leave our children? What lessons have we learned since our shared tragedy? 

My story of transformation is one of many, it is neither unique nor meant to instruct or advocate anything. It's just one story in the narrative of millions. The experience of one young man, one Marine, one reflection of life, service, and faith in the backdrop of a horror rarely visited on a people on such a scale. 

I wonder what this September 11th will bring. I wonder how much our nation has grown, how much work we still have left to do, and what life would be like for my children, even 10 years from now. 

This 10th anniversary is a time of sorrow, remembrance, and a strengthening of our resolve. For some Americans it is also a time to remember and remark on how that fateful day also became the catalyst for our journey into Islam. We will find ourselves balancing the feelings of horror with the feelings of a new convert embracing a faith at the most controversial of times. As we weave the fabric of remembrance, will we include diverse experiences such as these? 

I pray that as we approach this 10th anniversary that we will find our country closer together and ready to be unified based on our similarities and not our differences. I pray that all those affected will find a way to reflect in a way that heals instead of divide.

  Category: Americas, Faith & Spirituality
Views: 3742
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