FERIZAJ, Kosovo - Sept. 11 is a date that has been ingrained in the hearts and minds of many Americans. It marks the anniversary of that fateful morning in 2001, when terrorist attacks cut short the lives of approximately 3,000 people and shook an entire nation. Now, nine years later, the memories of that morning are still fresh in the minds of Americans, including the soldiers of Multi-National Battle Group East, who are deployed to Kosovo as part of the NATO peacekeeping mission here.
On Camp Bondsteel, soldiers stopped what they were doing, and held a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. to honor the victims of 9/11. It is the exact time, 8:46 a.m. eastern standard time, when the first jet struck the North Tower at the World Trade Center in 2001.
"You can ask any American and they can tell you exactly where they were when that happened," said Capt. Eric Nelson, Madrid, Iowa, a member of the Iowa National Guard and commander, C Company, 2-147th Aviation Battalion. "It's similar to how other generations can tell you where they were when [President John F. Kennedy] was shot. You never forget where you were and what you were doing when something that tragic happens."
While the memories of Sept. 11, 2001, may never fade, Nelson and several of his fellow soldiers had the opportunity to form some new ones on the evening of the ninth anniversary of the attacks. Between 50 and 75 local teenagers joined approximately 20 American soldiers to hold a memorial service in front of the municipal building in downtown Ferizaj, Kosovo, Sept. 11, honoring the lives that were lost nearly a decade ago.
Most of the soldiers who attended are involved in an outreach program, in which they spend several hours each week teaching English to a group of students at the youth center in Ferizaj. The memorial service, while intended to honor and remember the lives lost nine years ago, was also a way for the students to show their appreciation for what these soldiers and others like them have done for the people in Kosovo.
"This is an important day for us, too," Kaltrina, a local student, told one of the soldiers. "It was a sad day for us as well. We wanted to show our support. You support us and we wanted to show that we support you and that we love America."
The soldiers began the evening by presenting T-shirts to all of the students. On the front, the shirts read, "Remember", with "September 11" on the back. Following the shirt presentation, the soldiers and students walked together through the streets of Ferizaj, from the youth center to the municipal building, where students and soldiers gathered together to listen to Beltine Biqmeti, a local student, sing the U.S. national anthem.
"She did such an amazing job," said Capt. Joshua Owens, Conway, Ark., a member of the Arkansas National Guard and commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1-114th Security and Support Aviation Battalion.
Following Biqmeti's rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner", everyone lit candles and placed them around the edge of a concrete planter. Some knelt and prayed, while others simply reflected upon the significance of the day.
"It's with mixed feelings, being here tonight," said Owens, who heads the English teaching program. "It's really humbling to us that the people in Kosovo would take time out of their day to remember something so important to us."
Nelson, who teaches English at the youth center to an advanced group of students, echoed Owens' sentiments.
"It's really incredible that these kids came out here on a Saturday night to do this," Nelson said. "For a bunch of teenagers to come out on a Saturday night and show this kind of support to Soldiers from another country; it's pretty amazing."
Sometimes, something happens in a person's lifetime that is so profound that things are never quite the same again. For many Americans and other people all over the world, the tragedies that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, have had that kind of effect. People like Nelson and Owens will probably never forget what it felt like when they learned of the deaths of so many of their fellow Americans.
Nothing can take away the loss that was suffered on that day, but maybe, when Nelson, Owens and others present in Ferizaj that evening commemorate future anniversaries of Sept. 11, they'll have a slightly brighter memory to add to all the dark ones; a memory of the time a group of teenagers from the other side of the world came out in large numbers to show the Americans their love, support and appreciation.
This work, U.S. Soldiers, Kosovo youth remember 9/11, by SSG Jerry Boffen, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.