President’s Message: Pause to Honor Service, Sacrifice on 9/11

President’s Message: Pause to Honor Service, Sacrifice on 9/11
(Illustration by Steven P. Hughes)

This week we reflect on the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 20 years later. The images of the Twin Towers struck by two hijacked planes are burned into our country’s collective memory. We remember New York City’s first responders who ran into the smoke-plumed towers to rescue the people trapped inside. In Arlington, Va., hijackers crashed another plane into the western side of the Pentagon. Meanwhile, on Flight 93, passengers fought to retake the aircraft against hijackers, who had intended to crash the plane into a target in Washington, D.C., likely either the White House or the Capitol. The plane crashed near Shanksville, Pa., killing all 44 people aboard.


These events shocked America and swiftly changed the course of our global military posture and geopolitical outlook, ultimately entangling the U.S. in a 20-year war in Afghanistan where terrorist groups had been harbored by the Taliban-led government.



From left, Member Service Representative Kayla Dailey, MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, USAF (Ret), MOAA Board Chairman Gen. Walter "Skip" Sharp, USA (Ret), and Director of Government Relations for Military Family Policy and Spouse Programs Jen Goodale place a wreath at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial on Sept. 8. (Photo by Mike Morones/Staff)


Operation Enduring Freedom put troops into action in early October 2001, beginning air and ground campaigns alongside Afghan forces retaking Taliban-controlled territory. Years later, after also orchestrating the invasion of Iraq and ultimate capture of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. asserted some justice for the 9/11 attacks. On May 2, 2011, Seal Team 6 killed Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.


[MORE 9/11 ANNIVERSARY COVERAGE: MOAA Member Reflects on 2001 Afghanistan Mission]


While the end of the Afghanistan combat mission was declared in 2014, a force of thousands of servicemembers tasked with training and supporting Afghan soldiers remained engaged in a war that carried on. More than 2.7 million troops have served in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.


MOAA worked with other associations and Congress to support the families of the 125 casualties from the Pentagon attack and endeavored to bring some financial stability to the families of those servicemembers who lost their lives. The effort, resulting in legislation, provided Survivor Benefit Plan coverage for the families of servicemembers killed while on active duty, effective Sept. 10, 2001.


[MORE 9/11 ANNIVERSARY COVERAGE: Memories of a Generational War]


But there is still work to be done. The continuing tragedy in Afghanistan has left many of us thinking of those we have lost and those still suffering. Though the long war in Afghanistan has come to a close, it is time to care for our servicemembers, their families, veterans and surviving spouses. In the coming months there will be an opportunity for Congress to support our uniformed community and address injustices many from the Vietnam era still endure. The Sept. 11 anniversary and the end of the war in Afghanistan is a time for us to reflect on keeping promises to our currently serving and retired personnel — especially those we lost and those who were injured in combat.


Please join us in remembering 9/11 as we pause to honor that tragic day two decades ago.


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About the Author

Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret)
Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret)

Atkins served as the ninth president of MOAA, leaving office in January 2023.