Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Above: This is me, 9 years ago at Al Udied Airbase, Qatar.

I was on my way to work, I was apart of the A-Break on Day shift at the Culpeper Juvenile Correctional Center and it was going to be my second shift working this group. It was like any other day.

My life leading up to that point was pretty wide open. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I thought for the longest time that I was going to be a military officer, everyone that knew me in high school thought the same thing.

I was accepted at Norwich University Corp of Cadets which has made several military officers in the past. I was certain to to be a military lifer. It seemed that I had a grip on my future, but I had a way of throwing a wrench in, even on my own, plans. I decided just months before going to school to enlist in the US Coast Guard Reserves so I could have a leg up on my fellow classmates.
In the end it proved to be a fatal move, I was tired after basic training with the Coast Guard and I realized that I really did not want to go through a whole year of military training. I was a restless spirit and I wanted to see what the world had to offer. So it was not a surprise - looking back now at least - that after two weeks in the Corps of Cadets that I dropped the Corps and went back home to Virginia.

After arriving home, I enrolled at the local Community College and improved my grades. Later, I made a big decision on the 29th of June, I transferred my military branch from the US Coast Guard to the US Air Force (VA Air National Guard).

Not long after enlisting with the Guard I was offered a job at the Culpeper Juvenile Correctional Center and I thought that it would be a great opportunity - my major was Criminal Justice and I thought "why not?" I would do it while in college and then apply for the police department.

That morning ten years ago I walked into work and started getting ready for the shift. The shift went like normal, get the kids to breakfast and then school. After getting the kids in classes for the morning we went about doing small chores and an odd jobs - I cannot recall what jobs we were doing - but I remember being in the nerve center at one of the buildings and we heard the news from one of the other officers that the Towers were hit. I ran down to the main CCTV room that had a TV to the outside world and we saw the news. We watched in horror as the towers were on fire. Then suddenly about an hour later we saw the unspeakable.....the towers collapsed.

Just hours before, people were going about their business. It was just another day. My life plan was set, at least I thought.

Suddenly everything was thrown into the hours wore on the news kept getting worse.

A plane hit the Pentagon and then another crashed in Shanksville, Pa. it seemed like a page out of a video game plot or something. Nothing seemed real.

In the days after, my life would be changed. I would be activated by the Air Guard on Sept. 14th and the next 10 years of my life would see me going to Al Udied, Qatar, Krikuk, Iraq and would end with me going back to college finally. But I would finally be going to school doing something that I love: art.

From Sept. 14th to June of 2007 (when I was finally out of the military) I would b e activated 6 times, deployed to Qatar, New Orleans, Iraq and altogether I would serve 33 months on Active Duty. I wouldn't change a thing when I think about it.

For the first five years after 9/11 I flipped back and forth from being on active duty and being a civilian. Each time I was deactivated I would try to re-invent my identity. I was a security guard, a salesman, an insurance agent, a delivery driver and finally a washroom operator in a factory washing thousands of uniforms.

In the years after 9/11 I never took my life for granted, I was always aware of the gift that I had: life. Yet, it was a war in Iraq that made me realize what my calling was. I have written about a thousand times on here before but essentially, I learned that I was - and always had been - an artist.

My father, my mother, my siblings and even those all around me thought that I was an artist. When I finally realized that myself, I suppose that I made the best choice that would honor my fallen brethren: living out your passion.

If there was one thing in the last ten years that 9/11 has changed in me, it was the determination to live my life to the fullest and do what I was meant to do. Had there been no 9/11, there would not have been an Iraq, and no Iraq then no change in job and no self-discovery of being an artist. I would still be selling.....stuff!

I think I was one of the lucky ones.....of all the things that could have happened to me. Of all those who lost their lives.....somehow I managed to find myself.

ABOVE: "Reminisce: Iraq and Me" Watercolor, 11"x15". For today, this image seems perfect.

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