You couldn’t look away.


A group of Islamic extremists committed multiple acts of terror on American soil. They took down both World Trade Towers, damaged the Pentagon and – except for a group of heroic passengers who took a plane down in Pennsylvania – more damage would have followed.

 You couldn’t look away.

 A group of Islamic extremists committed multiple acts of terror on American soil. They took down both World Trade Towers, damaged the Pentagon and – except for a group of heroic passengers who took a plane down in Pennsylvania – more damage would have followed.

 Television screens, newspapers and internet sites were filled with story after story, image after image. Nothing else seemed to matter.

 Even today, the stories are shocking. Even today, those actions weigh heavily on political rhetoric and policy.

 It has been 16 years. Saddam Hussein and his sons were killed in Iraq. Osama Bin Laden was killed in his compound. Numerous terrorists called the “second in charge” have been killed in raids and airstrikes.

 We aren’t finished.

 President Donald Trump recently announced that the work of the United States Armed Forces in Afghanistan isn’t complete and won’t end anytime soon.

 It is hard to argue with that decision. Removing that American presence would undoubtedly create a power vacuum that could be filled by even more dangerous terrorists with their sights set on us.

 No one wants to prolong a war. We have spent trillions of dollars and we don’t have much to show for it.

 Almost 3,000 people died on Sept. 11, 2001 and about twice that many were injured. About 2,500 more have been killed in Afghanistan and 10 times than have been injured.

 Meeting one of those men both made me want to bring all of our fighting men and women home yet taught me that we don’t have to – because they are ready to serve and up to the task at hand.

 I interviewed a young man whose life was shattered in the service of his country. Jonathan Blank is a Kansan who was born and raised to be a Marine. He was proud to serve and even more proud that he became a member of Force Reconnaissance – a special forces unit.

 Sgt. Blank told me about getting shot at every day during his tour. His unit was doing work that kept Afghani citizens and other soldiers safe. They disrupted those who were producing and detonating improvised explosive devices in the country.

 As he and others in the unit were clearing an area, they thought they were safe.

 That is when Blank stepped on an IED. Terrorists design these devices to cause more damage than a typical land mine. Blank’s legs were vaporized in the explosion.

 The most difficult thing to consider is when he told me that he came to pretty quickly. He was conscious when medics were trying to save his life. His body was forever changed. Both legs were gone. The damage extended above his waist.

Blank’s story is that of a true Marine. Not only did he survive horrific wounds, he has continued his service to his country and he has even learned to surf.

 When you are that tough, that singularly focused on serving your country, you don’t have to have legs to get the job done.

 Blank doesn’t sit around wishing he wouldn’t have had to go to Afghanistan and face the pain it caused. In fact, given a chance, he would do it all again. In fact, if the Marines would let him, he would have gone back without his legs and continued the fight.

 “I would do it all over again,” Sgt. Blank said. “When you are involved in the unit I was, you accept the risk. I miss my friends and the work we did together. I wish I could go back.”

 His story is one of thousands more like it. Many haven’t suffered like Blank did. Some have. Others gave their lives in the fight.

 That is why September 11 is always a solemn occasion for me. I know what the sacrifice looks like. I know how many have made it and how many more are there now doing everything their country asks of them – risking everything to get the job done.

 It has been 16 years and no one could have predicted that we would still be fighting the battles touched off by terrorists that fateful day.

 But we are.

 We should always remember the victims of the attack and respect the sacrifice of those who have given so much in the fight to keep us safe since the original attack took place.