There are moments in history that will be forever remembered. On September 11, 2001 the world watched as four commercial passenger jet airliners, hijacked by al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists, caused the single-most devastating act of terrorism on United States soil.
Ten years later, servicemembers recall where they were and what they were doing when the twin towers fell, the Pentagon burned and the passengers of United 93 took a stand. These are but a few of the accounts.
A U.S. Marine Corps lance corporal"I was in my sixth grade computer science class," said U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Jared Thompson, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa comptroller. "We were all trying to figure out what happened."
Thompson said his school in Georgia was locked down after the World Trade Center South Tower fell at 9:59 a.m. He stayed in his class until the day ended and he was able to go home and watch the news with his parents.
"I didn't really think about the terrorists," Thompson said. "I thought about the people - the ones who died, and their families. I imagined how I would feel if it were my parents caught in the towers."
A U.S. Air Force captainThe impact of the tragedy was no less harsh for U.S. Air Force Captain Malinda Singleton, CJTF-HOA combat camera officer-in-charge. She was in her dorm room at North Carolina State University when the news broke.
"My suitemate came into my room, frantically talking on the phone to her boyfriend - who was in the Air Force," she said. "He told her a plane had just hit the Pentagon."
Singleton turned on the television in her room and watched the story unfold. She remembered seeing a Falls Church, Va., ambulance on scene at the Pentagon.
"It hit me really hard to see that ambulance on television," she said. "I was born and raised in Falls Church."
A U.S. Navy chief petty officerThe tragedy of Sept. 11 wasn't just felt the day the towers fell. It was felt a week prior and a continent away by U.S. Navy Chief Sharrie Shupien, CJTF-HOA coalition coordinator.
"I was working in London a week before Sept. 11," she said. "A taxi driver arrived at my flat to take me to Heathrow airport for my trip back to California."
Shupien said after she put her bags in his car she had to run upstairs to get additional luggage. The four flights of stairs to her flat gave the driver the time he needed to search her bags.
"I didn't notice until we arrived at the airport," she said. "The entire car ride was uncomfortable."
She said the driver, who stated he was from Afghanistan, kept questioning her about her job, role in the military and her personal life. After she arrived at the airport and saw her luggage had been searched, she walked in and informed the airport staff.
"They didn't think anything of it," she said. "The mindset back then was completely different. People were much more trusting."
A week later, Shupien was sitting at her home in California when the planes struck the Twin Towers.
"As soon as it happened I knew it wasn't an accident," she said. "I knew it was a terrorist attack and Afghanistan had been involved."
A U.S. Army sergeantEven though the connection between Afghanistan and Sept. 11 wasn't proven until later, the shock of the events transcended borders - physical, racial and generational. U.S. Army Sergeant Johnathan Duncan, CJTF-HOA executive assistant to the command senior enlisted leader, remembered sitting in his high school freshman history class and watching the news after the first tower was struck.
"We were already watching the TV when the other tower got hit," he said. "There was complete silence. Everyone just stared at the screen."
Duncan said Sept. 11 didn't impact his decision to join the military - he had already made up his mind to enlist long before. However, the events did have a lasting impact on his life in the military and the way he viewed the world.
"I remember my drill sergeant asking everyone if they thought they wouldn't go to war. Some people raised their hands," he said. "He just laughed at them and said 'you are all going. And some of you won't come back.'"
To this day, Sergeant Duncan said he still sees evidence of Sept. 11 affecting people's daily lives.
"The tragedy and loss of life didn't just end with the people who died in the towers," he said. "It continued on. The fact that we let it affect our daily lives gives power to terrorism. I think we should remember Sept. 11, 2001, reflect on it and how our mindset was forever changed. By doing that we can ensure that day never, ever happens again."