In our individual and collective lives there are terms, acronyms, and dates that we cannot forget. Whether we like it or not, they help inform and form the people that we are. The reference to “911” is one such reference point. Like the day JFK was shot in Dallas, MLK was shot, and RFK was shot, the beginning and end of the Vietnam War, these are events that have affected me and many who will be reading this. The events of 911 bring such disturbing images and thoughts which trouble us and cause us to recollect, contemplate, and wonder why…. Those momentous events during which we were living inevitably leave their marks on our lives. I doubt that there is a single person reading this who does not recall exactly where he or she was, or what he or she was doing when the first attack on the World Trade Center occurred, then the second, then the attack on the Pentagon, then the crash of Flight 93.
I was in Henrico Circuit Court in Judge Tidy’s court, when the Deputies came in at about 9:45 AM, cleared the Court, and performed a security sweep of the courtroom. In the hall all the lawyers milled about, and wondered what the issue was…When court reconvened the Judge quietly announced that the World Trade Center had been attacked. Like a bolt of lightning, I saw very clearly that my life had changed the instant the first plane flew into the first building. As a Commander of troops in the Active Reserve, I immediately knew that this was an attack caused by Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorist group, a group my units had been researching and about whom we had been developing an intelligence profile. We weren’t the only military intelligence assets directed against these merchants of death, but I felt somehow responsible to find justice in the rubble that followed. I also knew I would be in the first “wave” of military response, and I was. Three weeks later I had left my family and professional life and was living and working in Washington DC and all my troops had been mobilized and we were living in various intelligence sites on the Eastern Seaboard. That is where we stayed for almost a year.
This was a turning point in my life and the life of the country, and contributed to where we are today. First one, then two wars, the Patriot Act, and a sense of insecurity permeated our national dialogue. We had all studied in history that the US homeland had been spared damage through the two world wars, Korea, and Vietnam, but a group of terrorists had struck in the heart of the economic center of the country. Many of us, particularly those defending the country, thought very simply, “How could this happen?” But we were united in one objective, to protect the country from another attack and to exact revenge.
During my mobilization, I drove by the site of the scarred Pentagon building every day. I saw tragedies that are almost indescribable, but are indelibly etched into my memory. In the course of the decade that followed two wars began and have not ended, many of my Active Duty and Reserve friends and my own son went to war, and at one point he almost became a statistic in Iraq. While there was enormous sacrifice here and abroad by first responders and our military, there was uncontrolled spending, while others who showed the flaws of humanity: greed and corruption, that led to the real estate “bubble,” then the meltdown, the recession, and now lack of civility among our leaders who are supposed to set the example to the people as they defend the country against enemies, domestic and foreign. To some we appear to have become our own enemy.
As I contemplate my own past service to this country and my effort to serve again, I am encouraged in this by the examples of the real leaders who have gone before, the first responders of 911, those who ran into burning buildings to save the occupants, sometimes knowing they wouldn’t make it out, the courageous men and women who fought, and who are fighting today: those who disregard their own safety to save their fellow soldiers. This is what it means to be American. Arrogance, sniping, lack of civility among leaders are the hallmarks of a nation in decline, and we are not in decline. We are the people who demand decency, value sacrifice time and time again to preserve, protect, and perpetuate our nation of the people, by the people, and for the people.
I would still sacrifice my life this minute to save this democracy, just as I promised I would when I wore a uniform for 30 years, because we’re worth it. My family, children, grandchildren, and yours are worth it. We are still the best hope for the world, and we should never forget that. As one retired Senator recently said, “Those politicians who put their own interests above the interests of the country have no right to be in government.” He’s right. We need to demonstrate how strong we are by electing those leaders who view self-sacrifice over self-interest, and we need to return the country to citizen politicians, and take it away from the professional politicians who view retaining power as an end in itself, as more important than the good of the people. That is what I stand for, and that is why I run….