by Francis Smiley
Printed with Permission
Prior to September 11th, 2001 my life was as normal as your normal can be for a military kid, after that dreadful day my life would be forever changed.
My family and I had moved from England to Japan in early 2001, and by September 2001 I had just turned 11 years old living life every two to three years at a time. The center of my world throughout my stay in Japan revolved around two locations: Camp Zama, where U.S. Army Headquarters Japan was located and Sagamihara Housing Area (SHA) where many military families lived, including ours. Camp Zama was the central hub the PX, food court, and a movie theater were there and for any 11 year old these were the locations we always wanted to be.
When the attacks occurred I had just started my 6th grade year at SHA’s own John O Arnn Elementary School. My memories of living overseas are filled with spotty events all riddled with hazy recollections, however 9/11 and the months that followed are still very clear in my mind.
That day would not only change my family’s lives, but would continually transform my own life for the years to come. I remember waking up early and watching my mother glued to the television. I don’t remember if I was comprehending what I was watching at the time, though now I understand it was the constant reruns of the planes crashing into both Twin Towers, and there eventual collapse. I had no idea what New York City or Washington D.C. was, what the towers were, or what effect of what I was watching would have on me. The memories I have of that day are not of the actual day or any specific one day, but the weeks and months that followed.
First, was the dramatic change of my everyday environment. Both SHA and Camp Zama were on full lock down, both installations had increased armed guards and extremely strict curfews that seemed to last forever. At some point after the attacks I remember being at school, and a small contingent of military police were on the campus. These men were armed, and I remember all of us kids were excited to see their weapons, this mixture of infatuation and fear continued for some time. I can’t recall how long this new change occurred, though it has always been significant in my mind with the date of 9/11/01.
My most significant memory associated with 9/11 is when my father sat my two brothers and myself down and explained he was going away. I don’t remember the full conversation but I do remember that once we had it, he was gone a few months later and gone for a while once he left. At this point the realization of what 9/11 actually was and why my father was going away sank in. This realization would never truly fade away, and in later years that day would continually shape my future.
Many kids raised within the military community follow their parent(s) into any one of the respective military branches. Many who were children during 9/11, and saw their parents deploy, have now shaped their own lives mirroring that of what they have experienced. Some have enlisted, some have joined an officers program, and many others have joined in federal service for our nation.
For me, I have dedicated my young adult life towards academics in the fields of international security and history, so I can too at some point make my contribution towards the safety and security of our nation. Throughout my academic career I have made many transitions, reflections, and observations for how best I can contribute to our nation’s defense. One certainty I have always had is my perspective of 9/11 as a military kid overseas.
The significance of that day fifteen years ago has always stuck with me, and like so many others it has made the drive for a more effective security environment for our nation’s defense a target goal in life.