Around this time every year, Americans at home and abroad begin to reflect on the events and effects of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. As a young lieutenant in the Air Force, I remember being horrified as I watched the events unfold in real time on television news. I wondered, why is this happening? It wasn’t the first time in our nation’s history that we would face an unconventional threat, but it was my generation’s moment to look around and take stock of who was with us and who was against us.
The attack on our country was a wake-up call to me and many of my fellow soldiers. I was at a transformative age; things that were once black and white were suddenly grey. My brothers and sisters in arms would soon confront missions in Iraq and Afghanistan that were unclear. Still, our intentions were pure. We wanted to stand against a totalitarian regime and dictatorship threatening our fellow Americans and do what we could to prevent violence from again reaching our own shores.
We have the tools to be a stronger nation than we were before Sept. 11, 2001. We have learned valuable lessons about the danger of growing enemies and the importance of developing alliances.
With the possible exception of World War II and the Cold War, never have our allies and our position on the world stage been more critical to the survival of our way of life. If we are to retain our position as the world’s leading superpower, we must maintain our influence and diplomatic relationships. We cannot do that if we become known for abandoning our allies and reneging on our promises. The U.S. cannot maintain its credibility if it attacks free speech and the freedom of the press, the very things for which those of us in uniform believed we were leaving our families to risk life and limb.
Reflecting on 9/11 this year leaves me looking around for heroes to continue the long healing process. Increasingly, I feel let down by the realization that no cavalry is coming. Our nation’s leaders are fallible. It is therefore time for us to be our own heroes. We can and must be the leaders that are so desperately needed.
M.J. Hegar is the Democratic candidate for Texas’ 31st congressional district and the author of Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman’s Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front.