Rep. Zinke (R-MT): Fifteen years ago, the world forever changed

At 8:46 AM on September 11, 2001, the world changed forever when nineteen radical Islamic terrorists hijacked commercial jets and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. These cowardly attacks killed 2,977 innocent civilians and hundreds of first responders. In the fifteen years since the attacks, nearly 5,000 troops have made the ultimate sacrifice defending our nation in the Global War on Terror.

While America suffered a great loss and was pushed to her limits, we came out stronger as a nation – a nation whose spirit could not be broken, only made tougher, in the wake of tragedy.

The world witnessed the best and worst of humanity that day. Fifteen years later, we remember the best: The 72 law enforcement officers and 343 firefighters who lost their lives running into the towers while everyone else was fleeing. We remember the 246 passengers and crew on the hijacked flights. And we remember the 2,606 in the World Trade Center, the 125 civilians, and 55 Pentagon personnel all of whom were just going to work to earn a paycheck for their families.

These are graphic and blunt memories, but to forget what happened on that day is dangerous. A free nation is a vulnerable nation, and as long as America is the beacon of hope, freedom, and liberty for people around the globe, we will always be the target of evil. The attacks in San Bernardino, Orlando, and Chattanooga the past year are stark reminders.

But, being the enemy of evil is a burden we must bear because no one else can. In the words of President John F. Kennedy, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Radical Islamic terrorism and those who fund it remain a credible threat to America. I have led American troops to the corners of the world and the bowels of Hell in search of those responsible for the attacks and to prevent future attacks. Many of those individuals will never see the light of day again. I have seen America’s sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers fight valiantly for our freedom. I’ve also seen too many fall.  Thirty-eight Montanans have fallen in the line of duty protecting us in the war.  We owe them our eternal gratitude.

America has been at war for fifteen years. That’s longer than at any other point in our nation’s history. As a War on Terror veteran myself, I’m currently working in the House to pass legislation to authorize the construction of a national monument to honor those who served and fell defending our nation in in our time of need. This is not a red or a blue issue; it’s red, white, and blue. And it’s the right thing to do. The unity we felt after that tragic day is a unity that should prevail when we talk about funding our troops and keeping America safe.

Everyone remembers where they were that day. I was serving as the Executive Officer of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training at a Naval base in Coronado. I was looking out at my class, many of the guys barely old enough to shave every day. I looked at them and knew their careers would be very different than mine. I would go on to lead many of them in Iraq.

My wife, Lola, remembers too. Lola was a military spouse getting ready to take our daughter Jennifer, the oldest of our three children, to college to start the school year. Lola turned on the TV as she was making breakfast and saw the news. She immediately postponed the trip, kept all three kids home from school, and we did what all military families did: we prayed. Lola didn’t know it that day, but our daughter would soon be deployed to the Middle East as a Navy Diver. At one point in the War on Terror, Lola was at home raising our two young boys while her husband, daughter, and son in law were all forward deployed. This story is not unique. We ask so much of our troops and their families. The sacrifice cannot be overlooked.

I call upon all of you today to remember and honor the best of humanity. Honor those among us both in the flesh and in spirit who have heard the call to serve and their loved ones holding down the Homefront.

Freedom isn’t free and today is a reminder of that. May God bless America, and God bless the men and women who defend her.