Reno, Nev. --
On September 11th, 2001 I was 10 years old. I remember getting ready for school and my mom yelling for me to come see what was going on. Standing at the foot of her bed, I watched news coverage of some buildings collapsing. My mother was in tears and I was confused. I had no idea that I was about to grow up during our nation’s longest war.
Enlisting was not a part of my plan at 18, but when 27 came along it was. And it changed my life. Less than 3 short years after enlisting, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime. In a matter of 4 days I packed up my things and headed to Philadelphia to help the Vulnerable Afghans find solace in our country, completely unsure of what was waiting for me.
Chaos is the best word to describe the Philadelphia International Airport that day. Everyone was scared, tired and confused, and by everyone I absolutely mean our service members as well. It was a day filled with unknowns. Luckily, as a uniformed force, we thrive in chaos and there was a lot of quick thinking individuals there making the right decisions at the right times.
I was drawn to this mission for many reasons, but the main one would have to be my children. As a mother, I know the feeling of doing absolutely whatever it takes to protect your family. So when I arrived in Philadelphia, I knew I would do whatever I needed to help those families make sure their children found a safe home with opportunities to thrive.
The cultural differences were something I had never experienced before. Things that are taken for granted here, like running water and a safe, clean place to sleep--were truly celebrated by those coming over. It was an amazing feeling seeing the look of relief in these families’ eyes. It also put into perspective for me just how far women in the United States have come. The freedoms, the opportunities and the equality just to name a few.
I found myself with an aching heart most days though. The stories of death, family separation and fear created this dark cloud that none of us truly knew how to navigate through. For the service members, we were being told to be hyper-vigilant for anything from sickness such as COVID-19 and measles to terrorist activity and sketchy behavior. However, on very few occasions there was a glimmer of hope and those moments kept us going.
On September 11th, 2021 I was 30 years old. I sat in a warehouse in Camden, New Jersey helping Vulnerable Afghans get settled into their new world, watching the tail end of a 20-year war come to a close. I am grateful for the sense of closure and awareness this mission has brought to me and will forever remember the connections I made.