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NEWS | Sept. 11, 2023


By Spc. Christopher Smith

In the early morning of September 11th, 2001, before I was Specialist Smittey, I was a 4’ year old’ excited for his first haircut in preparation for preschool on Long Island, New York.

My father and I have always been really close, so it was fitting that he’d be the one to take me to this big life moment.

In a flash an ordinary day became a tragic and hectic one.

I remember my father and the barbers turning their heads in a panic toward the TV screen inside the small Long Island barber shop forty minutes from Manhattan.

A hijacked Boeing 767 plane had just struck the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Less than 20 minutes later, before anyone could make sense of what happened, the south tower was struck by a second plane.

Nobody knew who was behind it, why it was happening, or what was next.

On the same day less than an hour after the south tower was hit, yet another commercial plane crashed into the Pentagon.

All normality ceased.

The entire country believed the nation was under attack.

There was no public transit for days and in some cases weeks after 9/11.

Absolutely no air travel for the United States or Canada.

Almost all skyscrapers, government buildings, schools, theme parks and even television and movie studios completely shut down for weeks.

The vague memory and consciousness I had as a 4 year old made everything very confusing.

Of course I didn't fully comprehend the weight of what had happened.

The following weekend, my parents had planned to take me to see the Thomas the Tank engine themed event a short distance away in Pennsylvania.

Recently I researched if you can still go to the event and found out you can still go during the same dates I did as a kid.

That may be the only thing that has remained the same since 9/11.

To keep things normal for me and to not crush my dream of seeing my favorite living train, my parents decided to take me anyway.

The day of the trip, we traveled across the Verrazzano Bridge between Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Driving from New Jersey across Staten Island and onto the Verrazzano Bridge gives you your first full view of New York.

I've traveled across this bridge more times than I can count in my twenty plus years of life.

As we looked down the Hudson River at Manhattan, smoke still billowed into the sky from the recently collapsed Twin Towers.

A memory that is permanently chiseled into my mind.

The years following the attack saw multiple changes to the New York my family called home and the United States as a whole.

America now had a common enemy and a face to bring to justice, which brought a lot of people together, especially in New York.

Travel became much more secure and difficult as a result.

The word terrorist was regular within a lot of households.

So was the word war.

As I got a bit older, I became much more aware of 9/11 and the number of lives lost.

To this day I have an unexplainable fear of flying in planes.

They say the odds of dying in a plane crash are extremely rare, but I've seen those rare odds happen.

Pieces of the Twin Towers are placed in front of many fire department stations as a memorial for the first responders and victims of the attack.

Each year for over a decade they would announce news about service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I was twelve watching my morning cartoons when I first heard that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.

There were chants of “U.S.A!” all across the country and especially in New York.

Justice had been served.

However, terrorism doesn’t just go away, so neither did the war.

At the age of twenty two, I was a college drop out with a technical degree in digital media and film making with dreams of working within that career field.

I moved away from New York, the only place I’d ever known, and traveled across the Verrazzano Bridge to live in a warmer one, Miami, Florida.

Looking down the Hudson River now, where smoke once billowed from the wreckage of the twin towers, is the new One World Trade Center.

My father remained in New York, where just as of this year, he’s retired after thirty plus years of work as a civil servant for the town of Smithtown.

Much of the world had changed since that horrific day.

Technology, Social Media, Epidemics.

One thing remains the same.

America is still at war with terrorism.

Since high school, I've always wanted to join the military and had a drive to serve my country.

I felt unsatisfied working the average day to day jobs that I had been doing since I’d dropped out of college, and I wanted something bigger for myself and to do something I enjoyed for work.

While looking into the military I found out my dreams of working behind the camera and my drive to serve my country could be done at the same time.

I went to my local Miami recruiter and joined the Army as a Mass Communications Public Affairs Specialist.

Taking my oath of enlistment made me reflect on all of those who had done so before me, especially those who  joined when the country came under attack two decades prior.

While in basic combat training, our drill sergeants brought us to our bay, made us toe the line and then they gave us the news.

The United States had just pulled out of Afghanistan.

The War was declared over.

Most of my Drill Sergeants were veterans from both Iraq and Afghanistan.

While I was going through the trials and tribulations of junior and highschool, they were on the other side of the world fighting a war.

It was clear on their faces that although the war had been declared over, it wasn't over for them.

Just days later the Drill Sergeants pulled us outside to stand in formation again and do a salute and a moment of silence.

Thirteen U.S. service members had just been killed in a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan.

Even a world away this hit hard, looking around at my new battle buddies, I imagined what it could be like to lose one of them.

It ironically amplified the calling I’d felt to serve both my country and honor them.

The emotion and grief of hearing about the sacrifice these service members made motivated me to excel in basic training and also promise myself that I'd go on to serve my country to the best of my ability.

Two years later, I’m here reflecting upon my life in New York, my passion, and my service to my country.

I’m fulfilling my dream while serving my country, just as I promised myself I would.

Those of us from New York are familiar with the saying “Never forget.”

I will not forget the sacrifice of my fellow New Yorkers, nor will I forget the sacrifice of the service members that came before me, who allowed me to be here today, writing this story.