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Remembering 9/11 Commentary

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Jerry S. Shelton Jr.
  • 755th Air Expeditionary Group
"Where were you on 9/11?" I am sure many of us can answer this question without hesitation. It was September 11, 2001, the day America was attacked. Some of us lost friends and family, some of us witnessed it with our own eyes, and many others like me sat in shock, staring at the television news broadcasts as the horrifying images unfolded.

My family and I, along with others on Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, were barricaded inside our quarters riding out Typhoon Nari. This rather unusual typhoon passed near Okinawa on September 10th but suddenly veered away from the island. After the "all clear" was given, it mysteriously backtracked and returned to within 50 kilometers of Okinawa, intensifying overhead on September 11th. As gale-force winds lashed outside late into the night, I found it difficult to sleep so I tried to find something interesting to watch on television. I stopped on CNN, watching as thick smoke bellowed from the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Reporters were just beginning their media coverage, still trying to make sense of what we were seeing, when suddenly a passenger airliner smacked into the South Tower. America suddenly realized that it was evident that a coordinated attack on American soil was now in progress.

September 11, 2009 marks the 8th anniversary of that day as a day of remembrance. America as well as those around the free world remembers this day by organizing memorial services and other events to honor and remember the victims of those attacks. As members of the Armed Forces, remembering 9/11 is a constant in our lives and for many of us becomes the answer to another question, "Why do you serve?" At Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, we begin our day of remembrance with the Patriot's Day 9.11 Kilometer Run. Several hundred participants representing the international community here will come together in the early morning of September 11, 2009 and push themselves physically and mentally during this organized running event. Waiting for the race to start, we will remember where we were on that fateful day and how it changed us, some of us will look inward and find strength in our service, and we will honor the fallen.

I grew up in Indiana and have been an avid runner since high school. During my early years as an Airman, physical fitness was not a big part of who we were. So as a runner, I was elated when our Air Force leadership recognized the importance of physical fitness and began introducing fitness into our culture. As an explosive ordnance disposal chief, I can say with some authority that the physical challenges of EOD can be intense, especially when performing dismounted operations to locate and destroy enemy weapons hidden within the high altitudes and mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. Proper diet combined with physical training; weights, running, and core strength routines build muscle, improving strength and endurance. Today, all services within our Armed Forces have adopted this "culture of fitness." These organized races, such as the Patriot's Day 9.11Km Run, further promote and validate this culture, and everyone I meet has their own story. I've met cancer survivors, those who had struggled with obesity, those who strive to improve their fitness level, and even those who remain active despite loss of limb. Each story is one of varying degrees of personal courage, triumph, and perseverance, and I'll surround myself with people like that every chance I can.

Throughout my 26 years of service in the Air Force, I've participated in numerous organized 5Ks, 10Ks, biathlons and base perimeter runs. It's a great opportunity to promote running, meet other fitness-minded people or raise awareness on particular issues. Staying focused on our commitment to service, remembering our fallen heroes and their loved ones who have sacrificed so much, and by demonstrating a commitment to fitness, improves readiness and serves an example for others.

We have a solemn obligation to remember 9/11. And as we move on to tomorrow - by staying mentally, spiritually and physically ready - we continue to honor our fallen by our service in defense of our freedom.