The Magazine

The 9/11 Generation

Sep 12, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 48 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we’re pleased to let two men of distinction speak for us. Here’s the president of the United States at the American Legion convention in Minneapolis last week:

American Soldier Photo

A U.S Marine returns fire in Eastern Afghanistan, December 2010.

AP PHOTO / RAFIQ MAQBOOL; AP PHOTO / Maya Alleruzzo

***

“Next weekend, we’ll mark the 10th anniversary of those awful attacks on our nation. In the days ahead, we will honor the lives we lost and the families that loved them; the first responders who rushed to save others; and we will honor all those who have served to keep us safe these 10 difficult years, especially the men and women of our armed forces.

Today, as we near this solemn anniversary, it’s fitting that we salute the extraordinary decade of service rendered by the 9/11 Generation—the more than 5 million Americans who’ve worn the uniform over the past 10 years. They were there, on duty, that September morning, having enlisted in a time of peace, but they instantly transitioned to a war footing. They’re the millions of recruits who have stepped forward since, seeing their nation at war and saying, ‘Send me.’ They’re every single soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, and Coast Guardsman serving today, who has volunteered to serve in a time of war, knowing that they could be sent into harm’s way.

They come from every corner of our country, big cities, small towns. They come from every background and every creed. They’re sons and daughters who carry on the family’s tradition of service, and they’re new immigrants who’ve become our newest citizens. They’re our National Guardsmen and Reservists who’ve served in unprecedented deployments. They’re the record number of women in our military, proving themselves in combat like never before. And every day for the past 10 years, these men and women have succeeded together—as one American team.

They’re a generation of innovators, and they’ve changed the way America fights and wins at wars. Raised in the age of the Internet, they’ve harnessed new technologies on the battlefield. They’ve learned the cultures and traditions and languages of the places where they served. Trained to fight, they’ve also taken on the role of diplomats and mayors and development experts, negotiating with tribal sheikhs, working with village shuras, partnering with communities. Young captains, sergeants, lieutenants—they’ve assumed responsibilities once reserved for more senior commanders, and reminding us that in an era when so many other institutions have shirked their obligations, the men and women of the United States military welcome responsibility.

In a decade of war, they’ve borne an extraordinary burden, with more than 2 million of our service members deploying to the war zones. Hundreds of thousands have deployed again and again, year after year. Never before has our nation asked so much of our all-volunteer force—that one percent of Americans who wear the uniform.

We see the scope of their sacrifice in the tens of thousands who now carry the scars of war, both seen and unseen—our remarkable wounded warriors. We see it in our extraordinary military families who serve here at home—the military spouses who hold their families together; the millions of military children, many of whom have lived most of their young lives with our nation at war and mom or dad deployed.

Most profoundly, we see the wages of war in those patriots who never came home. They gave their all, their last full measure of devotion, in Kandahar, in the Korengal, in Helmand, in the battles for Baghdad and Fallujah and Ramadi. Now they lie at rest in quiet corners of America, but they live on in the families who loved them and in a nation that is safer because of their service. And today we pay humble tribute to the more than 6,200 Americans in uniform who have given their lives in this hard decade of war. We honor them all. We are grateful for them.

Through their service, through their sacrifice, through their astonishing record of achievement, our forces have earned their place among the greatest of generations. Toppling the Taliban in just weeks. Driving al Qaeda from the training camps where they plotted 9/11. Giving the Afghan people the opportunity to live free from terror. When the decision was made to go into Iraq, our troops raced across deserts and removed a dictator in less than a month. When insurgents, militias, and terrorists plunged Iraq into chaos, our troops adapted, they endured ferocious urban combat, they reduced the violence and gave Iraqis a chance to forge their own future.

When a resurgent Taliban threatened to give al Qaeda more space to plot against us, the additional forces I ordered to Afghanistan went on the offensive—taking the fight to the Taliban and pushing them out of their safe havens, allowing Afghans to reclaim their communities and training Afghan forces. And a few months ago, our troops achieved our greatest victory yet in the fight against those who attacked us on 9/11—delivering justice to Osama bin Laden in one of the greatest intelligence and military operations in American history.

Credit for these successes, credit for this progress, belongs to all who have worn the uniform in these wars. .  .  . I would ask all those who served this past decade—the members of the 9/11 Generation—to stand and accept the thanks of a grateful nation.”

And here is General David Petraeus at his retirement ceremony the next day:

***

“I have been privileged to serve in the arena together with America’s finest, its men and women in uniform, as well as with its finest diplomats and civilian officials and innumerable coalition partners. .  .  . All of them have been magnificent, and the members of our young generation in uniform in particular have earned the description Tom Brokaw gave to them. After a great day with us in Iraq in 2003, he shouted to me over the noise of a helicopter before heading back to Baghdad: ‘Surely, General, this is America’s new greatest generation.’ I agreed with him then, and I agree with him now. .  .  .

When the great Sergeant Major Hill and I visited units this past Fourth of July in Afghanistan, a commander stopped and asked me how many Fourths of July I’d spent deployed over the past decade or so. When I answered eight of the past eleven, he thanked me for my service and sacrifice. I responded, in fact, the privilege has been all mine. It has been the greatest of honors to have soldiered with our nation’s new greatest generation in tough but important endeavors for the bulk of that time. I can imagine no greater honor.

Before closing I also want to remember reverently those who have given the last full measure of devotion in our endeavors in recent years. They and their families must never be forgotten. In a poem published a few years ago, a British trooper who was deployed in Afghanistan captured eloquently the emotions of those who serve and those who sacrifice. He wrote,

And what is asked for the service we give?

No high praise or riches if we should live,

Just silence from friends, our name on a wall,

If this time around it is I that fall.

To the family, friends, and countrymen of those who have fallen and to all those who have served and sacrificed on behalf of our cause, I offer my deepest respect and my eternal gratitude.”


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