Twenty years later — to the day — after 9/11, members of Yankton’s Bravo Battery reflected on the influence of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on their lives then and now.
As it happened, Bravo Battery was having its monthly drills in Yankton on the 20th anniversary of the attack.
Specialist Erik Young of South Dakota National Guard 1st Battalion 147th Field Artillery (Bravo Battery) was 14 on Sept. 11. He said that years later, 9/11 was still a huge factor in his decision to join the military.
“I lived 9/11 from that moment on,” he said. “I was in college when I decided to join the Army. I was active duty before I joined the Guard.”
Young told the Press & Dakotan that he fought in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division and that the rallying cry for soldiers over there at the time was, “Remember 9/11. That’s what we are here for.”
“9/11 was a huge tragedy for our country,” he said. “We pulled out of Iraq and now we’re pulling out of Afghanistan. The wars caused by 9/11 are over.”
The successful removal of U.S. troops by air was announced by the White House on Aug. 31 and called the biggest airlift in history, with more than 120,000 people evacuated to safety. According to the White House, 20 service members were wounded and 13 gave their lives in service of that mission.
The Afghan government quickly fell, and many Afghani U.S. allies were reportedly left behind.
“It’s kind of a bitter thing — it’s not bittersweet; it’s bitter,” said Young. “I’d say the ending of the Afghan War is a terrible thing. We’ve pulled out of the countries that created the people for 9/11. It’s a really hard thing to comprehend, and we don’t know what the future is going to bring now.”
For Young, who may be the only member currently of Bravo Battery who fought in Afghanistan, that country is now a safe haven for terrorists, and possibly the source of another 9/11-scale attack.
Staff Sgt. Brett Hanes, who joined the Guard in 2003 at age 17, said he had planned on joining the military for a while and that 9/11 was not a factor in his decision.
“Being younger and being in a place you’re not used to, I would say 9/11 was more of a back thought,” he said, noting that every generation has had its war, and even the next generation will likely have its own conflict.
Specialist Levi Zimmerman, who signed up with Bravo Battery in 2017 at age 17, was too young to have any recollection of 9/11.
“I’ve heard about it all the time, obviously,” he said. “I guess it wasn’t really in my mind when I first signed up because it just wasn’t relevant to me.”
Zimmerman’s motivations for joining the military had more to do with following in his grandfather’s footsteps, he said.
As someone who grew up in the wake of 9/11, Zimmerman has lived its aftereffects.
“As long as I’ve been alive, we’ve been in a state of global war against terrorism,” he said. “I’ve never been alive in a time where we weren’t in a state of heightened security because of said attacks and acts of terrorism.”
Zimmerman added that he’s never completely understood why the U.S. was in the Middle East and has supported leaving Afghanistan.
“I mean, the way we left was horrible,” he said. “It was all at once and without any logistical support, but we should have left a while ago.”
Zimmerman’s views were not the consensus of the group Saturday.
“I feel betrayed,” said Young. “I fought there, and I don’t even know what it was for now.”
However, recalling a conversation with another soldier about the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Young added, “We did (our duty) with dignity, and we listened to our superiors, and I guess, that’s what you can say was the good that came out of it.”
Staff Sgt. Rob Buechler, who was 37 at the time of the 9/11 attacks and remembers watching the second plane hit the World Trade Center, echoed that sentiment.
“I think it’s important for all U.S. service members — whether you think the way we got out of there was right or wrong — to take with them the pride of knowing that they fought and served with honor and duty and patriotism,” he said.
It is also important to continue to remember 9/11, which for Buechler is on par with the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“You don’t forget about something like that,” Buechler said. “Whether you agreed with our military involvement in the Middle East or not, what I think people should remember is that, on that date, a large number of innocent people died for no reason.”