When I became a contractor for the Department of the Navy in 2006, we were already living in a post 9-11 world that was about to take a turn for the worst. Just one month into my new job, I flew to Los Angeles to meet my new teammates, Beth and Dale, who worked in San Diego and stopped in Burbank to collect me on the drive up to Naval Air Station, Lemoore. I had no prior experience working with the military, but suddenly, here I was, on the floor of an airplane hangar in the middle of the summer in “middle of nowhere” California thinking to myself, “If this is the Navy, where the hell is the ocean?”.
I watched my new co-workers effortlessly deliver multiple training sessions to groups of mostly enlisted sailors who were assigned to something called “VFA-122” (back then, I had no clue what that was). Most of the people in the training audience were young men – REALLY young men – some of whom were a little mouthy and obnoxious. I remember a particularly funny conversation between two guys about a Lindsay Lohan calendar hanging above a desk as well as an exchange I had with a kid who felt compelled to ask me in his best sexy voice how to spell the word ‘l-i-n-g-e-r-i-e’ (insert Brad saying “IN-AP-PRO-PRI-ATE!” here).
Seriously? I already had my preconceived notions about the military and military culture. Chauvinist potty mouths? CHECK. But in the few days we spent there, I learned what these “kids” were really assigned to do and I was blown away. I learned how complicated it was not only to perform the tasks at hand but manage the qualifications and careers of the dozens of sailors in a busy Squadron constantly in flux. Their leadership team was phenomenal, and when they got down to business, their professionalism and dedication opened my eyes to a side of the military I knew NOTHING about.
When we were done in Lemoore, I made my way to the Fresno airport for a flight to Washington state where I’d be meeting another coworker, Scott, at Submarine Group 9 (they’d have some ocean there, I was SURE of it :). The line for checked baggage was out of the terminal and I was thankful I only had a carry on, but then I discovered why the line was so long. That morning, the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot led to an increase in the terror alert level from severe to critical in the UK and the Department of Homeland security responded for the FIRST time with the “no liquids in carry on luggage” rule. So into the line I went to check my bag. Everyone waiting alongside me was calm, but you could feel the panic in the air and the frustration over how crippled we had become by the threat of terrorism. Once I made it to the plane, I remember feeling grateful for this new career path and what would become an incredible civilian career with the Navy. I knew I was becoming part of something so much bigger than myself and with all that was going on in the world, I felt honored to be a part of it.
Today, as friends have remembered the tragic events of September 11, 2001, I struggled over how to acknowledge the day – a “Never Forget” image of the WTC? A short recap of that morning? Neither seemed appropriate. Instead, I decided to share this story with you because sometimes when we remember 9-11, we forget to acknowledge how hard the survivors, families of the lost, those who serve in uniform, and we as a nation, fight to move forward in the present. We forget how much the world has changed since that day and how many simple freedoms we no longer enjoy. We forget that our military exists not to initiate war but to protect peace by maintaining a presence that lets our allies know we stand with them and warns our enemies that we are standing the watch.
So today as we remember the fallen and the heroes of this tragic day, let us not forget that life and liberty are ever fragile and that we enjoy them because others are willing to defend them. I am grateful to ALL who support, defend, protect and serve, and I honor the lost today by honoring YOU. Thank you so much for all you do.