BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – More than 2,200 deployed service members and civilians ran 9.11 kilometers here Sept. 11 in remembrance of 9/11.
Before starting the Patriot Day Run, U.S. Coast Guard 1st Lt. Jim Cullen, the Redeployment Assistance and Inspection Detachment team officer in charge, spoke to the large crowd in front of the airfield chapel about his experience on that infamous day.
The Coast Guard reservist, who is also a New Jersey state policeman, knew the Coast Guard would be responding to the disaster, so even though he had not officially signed into his unit as a brand new second lieutenant, he took action.
“I threw on my Coast Guard uniform with my police department belt, and headed toward New York City,” he said.
When arriving on the scene, Cullen said he was approached by other “self-dispatched” junior enlisted servicemembers who asked for direction on what to do, and the reality hit him. “I realized that this was to be my first day on the job as a commissioned officer.”
What he and his thrown-together unit didn’t know was as they set up security and a field hospital, two fellow Coast Guard Reservists had made it into the towers to help with the rescue efforts before it collapsed. Neither of them ever made it out, said Cullen.
With that, Cullen asked the runners to remember not only the victims lost, but also those soldiers, police officers, firefighters and civilians who served this country both on that day and every day thereafter.
“As you run your race today, please draw strength and inspiration from those brave first responders and military members who put the welfare of others first and raced into those burning buildings to help,” he said.
As runners headed toward the start line, some wiped tears from their eyes with the refreshed memory of what happened that day. But that little bit of reminder was exactly the purpose in this run, said Allentown, Penn., resident U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Dennis Rodriguez, finance noncommissioned officer with the 374th Finance Management Company out of Wilmington, Del. “It is important to do things like this so we don’t forget.”
“This is why we are here,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Scanlin, an emergency manger with the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing out of Syracuse, N.Y. “Every place was affected by this. [We should be thankful] we are fighting the fight here and not at home.”
And for those whose home is New York, this event was even more special, said U.S. Army Sgt. Melissa Gray, information systems team chief, 359th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade, headquartered at Fort Gordon, Ga. “This was personal for me. [Brooklyn] New York is my home, and this was my way to honor them.”
Being deployed to Afghanistan, where indirect fire attacks are a constant threat, added even more of a personal motivation for some participants, said Bessemer, Ala., resident U.S. Army Sgt. Jason Carter, an infantryman with the 187th Infantry, 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y. “It made it more significant because they are still trying to keep us down. We are still going to keep coming though. We aren’t stopping.”
Even runners who were in their teens on 9/11 had a strong reason for participating.
“The people of 9/11 should never be forgotten for what they went through, and what some are probably still going through,” said Millen, Ga., resident U.S. Army Spc. Darcelyn Kimbro, 359th TTSB. “Their families will never forget. So, we shouldn’t either.”
This work, Bagram service members, civilians run in honor of 9/11, by MAJ Michelle Lunato, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.