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By Chuck N. Baker
Every month, NDVS seeks to honor each and every veteran, whether living or deceased, from every conflict, as well as in times of restless peace. If you served in the military, we want to recognize and honor your service. August is Anti-Terrorism Awareness Month. If you served or are serving in the Global War Against Terrorism, we’d like to hear from you to share your story.
In honor of those engaged in the Global War Against Terrorism, Air Force veteran Chuck Baker shares some memories from 9/11. Here is his story:
On the morning of September 11, 2001, there were a series of three coordinated attacks by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda against the United States. The attacks, in which there were 2,977 American victims, saw an increase in the number of individuals enlisting in the United States military. Since then, the nation has been involved in a number of conflicts, many centering in the Middle East. August has been designated as Antiterrorism Awareness Month. As history continues to unfold in 2018, this article will take a look back at some of the major conflicts the U.S. has been involved in since 9/11. And, we’ll reflect with some personal observations.
When it comes to horrific negative experiences that affect the nation, the great majority of Americans who were living during times of specific events will always carry those memories in their minds. Examples include the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and more recently the attacks on three U.S. locations on 9/11. The 9/11 event has led directly or indirectly to wars that continue to this day.
Beginning in 2001 and continuing today, part of the War on Terror is being fought in Afghanistan. Like Vietnam and Korea, the names of many countries and cities where we currently fight in had not previously been in our normal, day to day vocabulary. Once we took up arms, that changed. For example a reporter would begin a typical newscast about an actual event by saying “U.S. Army engineers cleared a section of road in Afghanistan today, in the region of Gor Tepa in the province of Kunduz.” Only a few people would run and open their world maps. But such news these past many years have opened the eyes of a lot of Americans: So-called third world nations exist, and for reasons true and untrue some of them are our enemies. And while they cling to ancient rituals in some cases, they have modern weaponry and detailed tactics at their disposal.
Since 9/11 terrorist organizations that we fight against have expanded exponentially. For example al-Qaeda, Taliban, Hezbollah, ISIS and Hamas to name a few.
In Iraq beginning in 2003 and ending for the U.S. in 2011, we fought again under the umbrella of The War on Terror. We invaded and occupied Iraq, overthrew the Ba’ath Party government and captured and executed leader Saddam Hussein. But in 2014, we returned to Iraq to fight ISIS.
And during that fighting in 2004, still under the War on Terror, we entered Pakistan. Insurgents were active in the northern tribal regions and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. When 2007 rolled around, we saw action in Somalia.
Off and on we have entered Syria and fought factions of that nation’s forces as well as elements of ISIS. It was a part of what we called Operation Inherent Resolve. Giving a war an arguably romantic descriptive name is a modern device. We call the Afghanistan theater Operation Enduring Freedom. We took on Iraq under Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Operation Enduring Freedom began on October 7, 2001 with allied air strikes on Taliban and al-Qaeda targets. We linked the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to al-Qaeda, a group that operated under the Taliban regime’s protection in Afghanistan. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the United States responded by deploying military personnel in Southwest Asia. But there are more, lesser known operations. In 2014 as the U.S. continued to train Afghans to secure their nation, Enduring Freedom was succeeded by Operation Freedom Sentinel. During the Iraq war, the second battle of Fallujah in 2004 was dubbed Operation New Dawn. And again in 2010, a battle in Afghanistan in Trekh Nawa was named Operation New Dawn. But wait, there’s more! Among other battles and other names, several U.S. missions in Africa and the Middle East have the word “shield” in their names — Juniper Shield, Octave Shield and Spartan Shield.
When it comes to individual recollections of recent military experiences, there are thousands of stories that have been told, and many that are yet to be told. I can begin with a very personal one — because it happened to me. The evening of 9/10 I was in Washington, D.C., having dinner with an associate of Representative Shelley Berkley (D-NV.) I was in D.C. to attend a journalism seminar, and while I was there I had scheduled informal meetings with some of Nevada’s elected officials or their staff members. Like so many evenings in so many American cities, it was a pleasant night, and we focused on dinner and local politics as opposed to international relations. Of course, the next morning changed everything.
The journalism seminar, which was in its second day, began to take shape, when someone rushed into the classroom and announced that an airplane had crashed into New York’s World Trade Center. A large projection television was turned on. Like most Americans, the class wondered if the flight was an accident, or planned. Moments later when the second plane hit the trade center, we knew the answer. We were all stunned. But then when a third plane hit the Pentagon virtually down the street from our classroom, reporters who worked on daily newspapers jumped up and ran to cover the story. I was the editor and publisher of a monthly paper and did not have an impending deadline. I ended up walking the streets, observing that store fronts were closing, traffic heading in the direction of the Pentagon was being rerouted, local and federal law enforcement vehicles were blocking certain streets and slowly the city was coming to a standstill. One retail establishment that stayed open and found dozens of customers was a local Starbucks. People flocked there to drink coffee and lament the attacks. As darkness rolled in, I noticed several pedestrians carrying copies of newspapers with the headline screaming about the attack. I asked where I could buy a paper, and I was directed a few blocks away to the Washington Post building. The company had set up a makeshift newsstand outside and an individual was selling papers as fast as they were being printed and delivered. I bought several copies to bring home. The next morning, newsstands were also selling daily papers from nearby Eastern cities — New York, Baltimore, Boston. Being a pack rat, I purchased those as well.
The airlines were all shut down, but I managed through persistence and intestinal fortitude to reach Amtrak via phone and snag a ticket to Nevada by way of Needles, Calif. and a connecting bus to Las Vegas. As a Vietnam combat veteran in the early days of the war, while I was on the train my thoughts went back to my time in the jungle. I recalled discussing the war and making the statement that one reason we were at a disadvantage was because the Viet Cong knew the jungles like the backs of their hands. But even with government maps and compasses, Americans were still strangers in the night. We further projected that if we were fighting the war in the States, we would have the advantage. We knew the streets, the alleys, the dead ends, the tunnels, the waterways, the freeways, and the VC didn’t. Perhaps that scenario would have worked to our advantage. But what we didn’t figure on was that when the war did come to our shores years later, it was through the use of jet aircraft flying as missiles. Once again, we were at a (temporary) disadvantage.
Fast forward to more recent conflicts in the Middle East. Army veteran Richard Carreon, a Las Vegas resident, fought in Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. He was brought to the USA from the Philippines when he was eight years old. He said as he grew to adulthood he observed the opportunities our nation had to offer, and felt he wanted to do something to show his appreciation. He joined the Army. As a chemical weapons specialist, he was sent to many different Army bases around the world. In the Middle East, his main focus was to identify and gather intelligence concerning high value targets, and take action against them. He invested 14 years in the service, and said he left due to injuries he suffered during raids overseas. Looking back at those wars in which he took part, he said that he feels we were there for the right reasons, “but decisions that were made created conditions in Iraq that prolonged the need for our presence.” He added that because the mission was executed in the way that it was, “we stayed a lot longer than we should have.”
He left the Army with the rank of Staff Sergeant, and felt he wanted to do more for America. Toward that goal, today he is heavily involved in veterans organizations including the VFW and the Nevada Veterans Council, among others. Many agree with his comments on the Middle East, many do not. I could relate various stories about our actions in the Middle East all day long. The fact is, we are still there in 2018. There are probably more opinions on our involvement than can honestly be counted. But that could be placed in the positive column. After all, opinions are part of what America is all about.