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Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Day the Music Stopped - Remembering 911

It was going to be such a perfect day.  I had just done something nice for someone who didn’t expect it, and I was still basking in the good feelings that go along with giving gifts.  There was no way I could have known that a horrible disaster was befalling our Nation at that very moment.  “Debbie,” I hailed one of our nursing staff as I walked to the back of my medical office with a giant smile on my face.  “I have no idea why, but I feel so good today.”  The words were barely out of my mouth when I noticed that she paused, as if listening to something in the distance.  
Our office radio was tuned to a local pop station when the music suddenly stopped, replaced by a newscaster’s serious voice announcing that a commercial jet had hit the World Trade Center.  The events that followed are now burned into our collective memory.  We watched replay after dreadful replay of the tragedy at both the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on a tiny portable TV brought in by one of our staff.  My joyous smile was a distant memory.
It was tough to see patients that day and in the days that followed.  They sensed my difficulty in focusing on the tasks at hand, and I found myself losing a train of thought often.  I was supposed to be heading out to a medical conference with my practice partner in the weeks after September the eleventh, but the event was in New York City.  “I really don’t see myself getting on a plane to New York right now,” my partner told me. 
Actually, that trip was the last thing on my mind.  I was thinking about the fact that I already had an application in place with the US Army Reserves and was in the midst of an attempt to become re-commissioned in the Medical Corps.  After accruing nearly twelve years of prior service toward retirement, I had resigned my commission in the US Army in the late 1990’s.  I was not thinking about the long-term repercussions then; I was only thinking about the commitment I had just made to a private gynecology practice.  The US was involved in various world conflicts as I was leaving active duty, and I really didn’t want to get a callback.  The easiest way for me to diminish my risk then was to resign, giving up the equivalent of a good 401K plan in the process.  In order to get back in, I would have to go through a somewhat cumbersome re-commission process.
            “Surely you’re not going to join the Reserves right now,” was the most common statement made to me over the days that followed the terrorist nightmare.  Friends and colleagues asked me to reconsider, citing the fact that numerous Reserve units had already been activated.  At first, those types of comments offended me, and I thought, how shallow do these people think I am?  That was exactly the right time to join, in my view.  Still, I had two small children, a spouse, and a good job to consider.  The decision was not straightforward.  My patients were not happy with me either.  More than a few of them wondered aloud whether or not I would be there for them in the future, thinking that I could be called at any moment to go serve. 
            It turned out that I waited three years to get any sort of call-up for duty after I was re-commissioned, and the duty was here in the US for three months.  It was actually pretty easy to get away for that limited amount of time, and there was little danger involved with moving temporarily to Fort Knox, Kentucky!  Still, I admit that it was difficult to be apart from my family for that mobilization.  In my absence, the gynecology practice survived and even thrived such that my patient’s worries proved unfounded.
            Since that first mobilization tour in 2005, I have gone to various places including Iraq and other places, and through it all, I have never regretted my decision to re-commission for even a fraction of a moment. People say that the world as we knew it changed forever as a result of terror on American soil, but I’m not so sure.  The threat has always surrounded us, we simply filtered out the noise of hatred against our lifestyles and freedoms in favor of going about our daily business.  I joined the Army Reserves just as I had planned before September 11, 2001, and I also got back to my normal life.  In my heart, I knew the hatred wouldn’t stop the music forever.

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