A 9/11 Tribute from Kabul, Afghanistan

Written by and posted with permission from Brigadier General John E. Michel, USAF – Commanding General, NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan; Commander, 438 Air Expeditionary Wing

“September 11 is one of our worst days but it brought out the best in us. It unified us as a country and showed our charitable instincts and reminded us of what we stood for and stand for.” 
Lamar Alexander
   Today, half a world away from the renowned New York City skyline, several hundred men and women of NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan assembled at precisely five-thirty p.m. (0900 Eastern time) to commemorate the events of September 11, 2001. The brief ceremony, conducted over 8,000 miles from the location of those fateful events, began with the sounding of Retreat to mark the end of the duty day and pay respect to our nation’s flag. It was followed by a moment of silence, some brief words by my Vice Commander, Colonel Bill Rowell, and ended with the retiring of the colors. 

  Undoubtedly, scores of similar ceremonies will occur across America today; however, for those of us continuing to fight for the cause of Freedom on foreign soil it was anything but routine.  Here in Kabul, standing shoulder to shoulder with our coalition partners from 14 nations, this moment under the blue Afghan sky served as a reminder of our continued commitment to honoring the memories of those whose lives have been lost since that fateful morning. 

   It is a privilege to share Colonel Rowell’s remarks with you. Consider it our small way of including you in this most sobering of tributes:   

Today, we remember a day that began like so many others in the United States.  There were rides to school and commutes to work, early flights and familiar routines, quick hugs and quiet moments.  It was a day like this day — a clear blue sky, but a sky that would soon be filled with clouds of smoke and prayers of a nation shaken to its core.

Even now, all these years later, it is easy for those of us who lived through that day to close our eyes and to find ourselves back in that unforgettable moment–back at home, at work, in college, in high school and even elementary school.  

Twelve times since that day we have marked another September 11th. We have paused in remembrance, in reflection, in unity, in purpose and yes, even in prayer.

This is never an easy day.  But it is especially difficult for the families of nearly 3,000 innocents who lost their lives as hijacked airlines hit the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington DC, and those on United Airlines Flight 93 who crashed outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

It is also difficult for those who have lost friends and family members in combat here in Afghanistan or Iraq.  Nearly 3,400 US and coalition members have made the ultimate sacrifice and another 19,000 plus have been wounded in action since September 11th.

But know their sacrifice is not in vain.

Scripture tells us “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  There’s no better way to honor the best in those who have died than by discovering the best in ourselves. For it is when we are striving to be our best that we turn from spectators to participants.  

President Theodore Roosevelt captured the essence of this ideal perfectly, when he said, “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to remain with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

So as painful as this day may be today, it forever leaves us with a lesson that no single event can ever destroy who we are.  No act of terrorism can ever change what we stand for. Instead, it only reveals our resolve and reinforces our commitment to be active participants in the process of creating a better future.

And that’s why, when the history books are written, the true legacy of 9/11 will not be one of fear or hate or division, it will be of our good works here in Afghanistan — our works to build a safer world AND our efforts to build a safer, more stable and peaceful Afghan nation. 

So dare to be a participant always — to move from the gray twilight and into the bright sunshine. And know you are doing much to aid the dawning of a new day.  

May God bless the memories of those we’ve lost and continue to protect those who are active participants in promoting the cause of democracy, freedom and justice across our globe.

Learn More at GeneralLeadership.com