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Five years ago ... An Airman's account of a nation's crisis

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Five years ago, my friends and I woke up in a stupor - eyes crusty, heads pounding - grasping for the nearest potable liquid to quench our dehydration from the prior night's festivities.

Five years ago, the crisp, early morning Texas air compelled us to turn the TV on to gauge the day's forecast.

Five years ago, the terror in innocent people's faces was plastered on almost every channel, and I, along with millions of other viewers, witnessed the most unbelievable, atrocious attack.

It didn't set in as reality - much like many aspects of my life at the time - until my best friend and I showed up to work at the local fast food establishment about an hour later. The usual Tuesday morning chatter about the two-for-Tuesday burger specials had fallen silent to the solemn discourse about the victims of the of the attacks and the ongoing rescue and recovery mission.

Denial subsided. Every death-toll increase triggered the deepest twinge of helplessness and vengeance, and every news update prompted introspection about the direction, or lack thereof, of my life.

How was it that just the day prior, the most difficult struggle I could fathom was my "twixter" crisis - gaining independence and transitioning into adulthood?

How could that possibly be my biggest concern after watching 19 cowards strip nearly 3,000 people of their lives and thousands more of their loved ones?

Over the course of the following few months, I heard more heart-wrenching stories of loss, inspiring stories of heroism and compelling stories of sacrifice. I watched one single day transform the nation from a large group of individuals to a united family, with intertwining and interconnected lives supporting one another through the aftermath.

What was meant to shred the fabric of America's community only strengthened it, and the words loyal patriots uttered in 1776 stood just as true in the 9/11 after-effects as they did 225 years prior: "United we stand; divided we fall."

That strong sense of brotherhood washed over me, and I decided to devote my life, at least for the time being, to something so much bigger than myself, the fight against the villains who planned the attack. I wanted to honor the people who have fallen before me fighting that battle and carry out their mission to ensure they haven't done so in vain.

A little more than four years later, I look back at the accomplishments I've made and the experiences I've had since making that decision.

Although I haven't yet served in the "sandbox," I've traveled most of the United States. I've also established a distinguished public affairs career, while gaining life-long ambition and direction.

The decision to walk into that recruiter's office, mostly inspired by the 9/11 victims, molded me into a responsible, assertive adult.

As I watched the flag fly at half-mast this year at the 460th Space Wing's Patriot Day retreat ceremony, I was reminded how five years ago, I heard my calling in the cries of those who lost their lives.