From College Student to Soldier to Veteran and Volunteer

On 9/11, it was my sophomore year at the University of Akron in Ohio, and it was time for my flute lesson at the School of Music. I was a bit distracted that morning trying to get ready for my classes and was dreading having to have to play for my instructor at my lesson. My lesson started at 10 a.m. Ten minutes in and there was a knock on the studio door. My teacher opened tit and popped her head out. I heard whispering, assuming it was just some nonsense, them my teacher told me to pack up my things and go home. The college was being shut down for the day. I was totally confused as to what was going on. I could only imagine by looking at my teacher and seeing the horror in her face. In that few moments of silence I was lost, waiting for her to say what was going on. It was then she said, “There have been terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers and they have collapsed”. I could not believe what I was hearing. Nothing else was said as we walked out of the studio.

I quickly got out of the music building onto the campus grounds only to see EVERYONE scurrying around almost aimlessly but in panic. I ran to my dorm, called my best friend who had an apartment off campus, gathered my personal belongings for a couple day stay, and headed out. The streets were jammed with cars and there was honking and yelling….people were crying. I finally got through traffic onto the freeway and got to my friend’s place. It was there that we sat down and watched the news and the attacks…..over, and over, and over. Reality set in.

I wondered what this meant for me and what shall I do? Well, I was already enrolled in the campus ROTC program and had an interest in the military. I had not decided yet what I wanted to do….enlist? Well, after this the decision was inevitable. I was enlisted into the Army National Guard as a Military Policeman come January 2002. I was told I was crazy and no one could believe that I was going into the service. People still don’t believe that I was in. I went into the Ohio Army National Guard because I wanted to continue to be able to focus on school yet continue my education. Following in my footsteps were my younger brothers. One enlisted into the Marine Corps active duty and the other in the Army as active duty as well. We all knew what we should do, and we did.

Throughout training and my time in there was a lot of stress, deployments, constant changes in training because of the way things were changing around us in the world. I was scared to death at times but then there were times where my military duty just felt like it was what I was always meant to do. I made so many friends in the service. No, I gained a new family. My eyes were opened to a world where it did not matter what clothes we wore, how old we were, what our ethnicity was, or how much money we made. We served, we loved each other, and we would fight to the death to protect our brothers and sisters, moms and dads. Unfortunately, there are some of those family members that are no longer with us today. I often reflect back on memories of those fellow soldiers that I have known that have died. I wonder what it is like for their families. How are they coping? I cringe when I think of what it was like……dying. That could have been me.

I ended my contract in 2006. I wanted to stay in but I was starting a family and wanted to focus on that. My son’s father was in the military as well and it would have made things very difficult for both of us to remain in and raise a family. It would not have been fair to our children. My brothers continued on and even today my youngest is still in. The terror hit close to home this past August when my youngest brother was struck by and IED in Afghanistan. This was his third deployment, he was due home in November…..go figure. I got the call on the morning of August 15th from my mother… mom…..”OH MY GOD! It’s your brother! He got hit with and IED! He is critical and we don’t know what is going on or if he is going to make it at this point!” I could barely understand her and I was breathless. I had a quick moment of shock and then total panic set in. How could this happen?! He was so close to coming home! WHY!?!?! He felt it was his duty to serve and with that there was always the possibility that something like this could happen. We all know it going in but never really stop to think about it until it does happen. At that moment I wished that it be my life and not his…

Long story short, he is going to be okay. He is now an amputee and is definitely covered in battle scars, but has lived to tell his story. My brother is my hero. It irks me when he says that he remembers every second of the explosion and what he went through. He tells the story to a select few. It is hell for him to relive what he went through and for myself and the rest of my family to relive what we went through. He doesn’t talk of the many kills, he doesn’t talk often of the friends lost. He simply quiets himself and you can see that he is lost in his own world, remembering all that he has gone through since joining the Marines in 2002 and the attacks in 2001.

I reflect on my service and my experiences regularly. I see how lucky I am to be alive, to have support, and how fortunate I am to be an American. I am glad to have served my country and am proud to have had a family that has served a total of 6 tours overseas. My parents, they were a wreck each and every time. I know what it is like to be a military family. It isn’t easy. As I drive down the freeways in my town I can instantly name off four roads within 2 counties that were named after local fallen soldiers…and that is not even all of them.

Since Sept. 11 I have gone from a careless college student, to a soldier, to a veteran. Now I feel that I need to give back to those that have helped me through everything with my injured brother and to those who have supported me as I served. My family and I have volunteered through organizations raising money for the troops, sending care packages. The Wounded Warrior Program and Yellow Ribbon Fund are excellent organizations that help families with soldiers who are serving. They are helping me be able to go see my little brother. If it weren’t for them I would not have been able to. I support ALL of those who still serve as well as their families. I know firsthand what it is like. I can tell the stories, share the experiences, and have seen or heard of the worst. I never thought in a million years that I would have changed so much or experienced what I have since Sept. 11th. I will continue to support our country and the organizations that help out soldiers, families, and communities in general. We will never forget 9/11. And for some of us, we will never forget all of the details in between 9-11-2001 and 9-11-2011. Ten years and still counting. WOW.

So, from college student, to soldier, to veteran, to volunteer. If it weren’t for 9/11 I would probably have just continued in school and gotten a job. I wouldn’t have been as sensitive to the things around me and the world events. I am thankful for all of my experiences and do not regret my decisions one bit. Even if it only helps one life….or if thousands. I will not forget everything 9/11 has allowed me to experience on my own or through others.

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