The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was walking to school and as I approached the campus, I saw one of my best friends, who said, “Did you hear? We’re getting bombed!” I couldn’t comprehend what he was saying. It also did not help that I have always considered him as jokester, so I believed he was playing around. I settled into my first period math class, and as the teacher passed out a quiz for us to take, the principal came on the school’s P.A. system and informed us of what had happened in New York. She concluded her message by suspending classes and sending the entire student body home. I thought to myself, “What could possibly be so catastrophic that they would cancel school completely?” As I got dismissed from school, I ran back home and joined my mom and aunt in becoming hypnotized by the images we saw on television. I saw the towers collapse and the Pentagon attacked, I could not believe or comprehend what was happening. At the very least, I knew that we would be at war very soon.
As a history enthusiast, I could not help but recall the famous inauguration speech made by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 as a response to the challenges the country was facing at that time. He concluded his speech by famously challenging Americans to ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country.
The aftermath of the events on Sept. 11 answered the question for me: I was to fulfill my patriotic duty by enlisting in the military. I chose the United States Marine Corps because of what it stood for and because it was the most challenging out of all the branches. My enlistment was a result of what happened on that September morning and remembering how I felt when I saw the images of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania that were being shown repeatedly on TV for weeks and months. I believed that we, as a country, needed to respond now. As my senior year in high school concluded in the Spring of 2003, the shift of American foreign policy from Afghanistan to Iraq seemed irrational, even to a 17-year-old, but never the less I continued to believe it was an important part of the global “War on Terror.”
As a marine, to be deployed to a combat zone was a symbol of prestige. It’s similar to how athletes train their whole lives to play but could not become a part of the team because they were on the bench the whole time. I saw fellow marines deploy for a few years and I wanted to join them over there. A tour of duty to Iraq was inevitable and my time came in 2008. The unit I was a part of deployed to the Al-Anbar Province in western Iraq, our duties mostly revolved in providing security to our base and the near towns around our base. I am very proud of my service and of those with whom I served. For myself and my family my deployment to Iraq was a time of hardship but we all agreed that it was beneficial for me in the end. My experience in the U.S. Marine Corps opened my mind to a new set of questions that I am still trying to answer.
As we approach the 13th anniversary of Sept. 11 attacks, I continue to attempt to answer John F. Kennedy’s question but with a much more educated and informed response. The answer to JFK’s question for me was to enlist in the military as a 17 year old; my response to the same question as a 29 year old would be for us not to get swayed by superficial identifications of politics or nationalities; they do not solve the important issues without sacrificing important freedoms and liberties. My response now would be for us, as the people of the United States, to question the processes and methods we use to attempt to come to solutions. It is much more important to ask the right questions because they can give us the best answer. And that’s what we need to do for our country.
Story by: Luis Padilla