News: A decade later, the ND National Guard reflects on 9/11
BISMARCK, N.D. — As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the North Dakota National Guard reflects back on the previous 10 years and that day that is forever memorialized in American history. Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on America, the North Dakota National Guard has mobilized nearly 3,800 soldiers and more than 1,800 airmen in support of the Global War on Terrorism. The North Dakota National Guard lost 12 soldiers since the Global War on Terrorism began. However, the GWOT memorial that was dedicated in front of Fraine Barracks on Sept. 11, 2009, honors 24 service members with close ties to North Dakota who lost their lives since that fateful day a decade ago.
Since that tragic day in our nation’s history, the men and women of North Dakota’s National Guard have stepped up in big ways to support the Global War on Terrorism, said Gov. Jack Dalrymple. Throughout the past decade, thousands of soldiers and airmen representing communities across our state have put their lives on hold and on the line to defend our homeland and our way of life. Some of those heroes made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our state and nation and we will never forget the price they paid or the families who continue to mourn their loss.
Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general, said, The terrible events that Tuesday morning in September 2001 was a defining moment for our nation and for each of us as individuals.
Everyone has a vivid memory of where they were and what they were doing that tragic day. In the ensuing hours we prayed for the people in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and those on Flight 93. We also prayed for the safety of our families, our friends and for our communities, not knowing what the future might hold.
As terrorists struck the World Trade Center Towers in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, North Dakota Air National Guard pilots with the 119th Wing scrambled from their alert detachment with the North American Aerospace Defense Command at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and were soon flying over the Pentagon. They were among the first to take to the air as military responders on that day.
Capt. Dean Eckmann was one of the three Happy Hooligans in the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 178th Fighter Squadron, that responded. At that time, the detachment was one of North American Aerospace Defense Command’s seven alert sites designed to protect the nation against an attack.
We saw something that day that very few saw from the air, Eckmann said. That’s basically because once that happened, [the Federal Aviation Administration] shut down the airspace, and we were the only ones airborne.
What he saw that day was something he will never forget. Normally, the East Coast is filled with airplanes, big and small, on a daily basis, he said. Flying that afternoon, the only airplanes that were up were basically military fighters and tankers. It was almost eerie, how quiet it was.
When Andrews [Air Traffic Control] put out the statement that any aircraft into Andrews Class B air space will be shot down, I was thinking we’ve got the missiles. It wasn’t like we were out on a combat air patrol over Iraq or somewhere in Europe it was within the United States. So that was kind of a gut-puller for me.
They would continue to provide for the nation’s defense by contributing to 24/7 combat air patrols unit the spring of 2002 and then flying at least two F-16 sorties daily until the fighter mission ended for the 119th Wing in October 2006, when they transitioned to flying the C-21 mission.
Emotions ran high in the days following the attacks, but for most the initial reaction was simply one of shock. No one could believe that the U.S. had come under such an attack.
On that day, we did not know that we would be a nation at war for more than a decade and we did not fully know of the sacrifices that would be made by so many as they provided for the safety of our nation. We are truly a safer nation today but that safety and the freedoms we so much enjoy have not come easily during the past decade, said Sprynczynatyk. In remembrance of the 2,993 people killed in the attacks, President George W. Bush proclaimed that Sept. 11 be known as Patriot Day on Sept. 4, 2002. As part of this proclamation, he directed that all American flags be flown at half-staff both home and abroad, and that a moment of silence be observed at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the time at which the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
More than 65 percent of the North Dakota National Guard has enlisted since 9/11. Those who have served more than 10 years and continue to serve have re-enlisted since the terrorist attacks.
All of your men and women serving in uniform have chosen to serve in a world at war and made numerous sacrifices, along with their families and employers, to keep our country safe from terrorism, said Sprynczynatyk.
More NDNG soldiers and airmen have mobilized in support of the Global War on Terrorism than for any previous conflict. Nearly 5,600 Guardsmen have served in GWOT, which is compared to 3,700 who served during World War I, 3,199 during World War II, 2,404 for the Korean War and 1,090 for the Mexican Border Incident of 1916-17. Fewer than 1,000 ND Guardsmen mobilized for the Berlin Crisis (1961-62), Philippine Insurrection (1898-99), Persian Gulf War (1990-91) and Balkan Operations (1997-2000).
Joining and serving after the 9/11 attacks holds different meanings and purposes for each soldier.
North Dakota soldiers have stepped up time and again to volunteer for GWOT missions. Two soldiers volunteered to mobilize five times since 9/11. Staff Sgt. Jacob Bollinger, who serves with Company B of the 231st Brigade Support Battalion, has deployed overseas three times and served on two stateside mobilizations. Sgt. Kristopher Anderson, who serves with the 188th Engineer Company (Vertical) is on his fifth mobilization after having served with the 142nd Engineer Combat Battalion, Company A of the 164th Engineer Combat Battalion, 817th Engineer Company (Sapper) — all in Iraq — and with Task Force Falcon Headquarters in Kosovo. Six other soldiers have mobilized four times each, including a doctor who spent all four of his 3-6 month deployments overseas.
Service is part of my nature and I have deployed so that others don’t have to. I’ve been humbled by my experience, serving with so many great Guardsmen both overseas and in the flood fight. The National Guard is just a great organization that allows me to work alongside some of the finest people in the world, Bollinger said about his lengthy deployment history.
Numerous heroic acts have punctuated the North Dakota National Guard’s service in the Global War on Terrorism. One Guardsman received a Silver Star, others received a Bronze Star Medal with V Device for valor, and many more have received the Bronze Star Medal.
Many hundreds of North Dakota Guardsmen have served valiantly in combat conditions, with hundreds of soldiers earning Combat Action Badges and many airmen earning the Combat Action Medal. Dozens of these Guardsmen received Purple Heart medals acknowledging wounds they received in action.
I am inspired when I think of the NDNG sacrifices over the past 10 years and continue to be proud of our soldiers, airmen and their families who have answered the call to service. Throughout the Global War on Terrorism, our military families have given so very much. Spouses have stepped up to be the head of household all alone. Children have celebrated birthdays and holidays without a parent. Parents have taken over the obligations of their children serving overseas. This service, and the numerous sacrifices that go with it, have not gone unnoticed. We owe a sincere debt of gratitude to all of our military families, Sprynczynatyk said.
The North Dakota National Guard could not serve so successfully in the Global War on Terrorism without the support we’ve received at home from our military families, Guard employers and community members, he said.
In one of the largest single deployments in NDNG history, three NDARNG units were deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom at the same time. About 630 of the 142nd Engineer Combat Battalion and 175 members from the 957th Engineer Company (Multi-Role Bridge) were wrapping up their missions for OIFI as about 480 members of the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion mobilized for OIFII. This strong entrance into the war in Iraq set the precedence for numerous successful missions that would follow.
NDNG units time and again set the standard overseas in the GWOT. The 141st Engineer Combat Battalion became the first military unit to launch a yearlong Trailblazer mission, a first-of-its-kind operation focused on assured mobility. Guardsmen cleared main supply routes in Iraq of improvised explosive devices and other hazards, as well as clearing areas that would provide opportunities for terrorist attacks. In all, more than 300 IEDs were found and destroyed during the unit’s year in Iraq, saving countless lives of U.S. and Coalition forces.
The NDNG’s 1st Battalion, 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment has proven itself as the experts in operating sensors and equipment to detect threats and attacks in Afghanistan. They have served in groups of about 40, with one group replacing another oftentimes with 100% of the unit volunteering to go in their mission of protecting the lives of U.S. and Coalition forces. Their efforts have greatly increased the safety of our forces in Iraq and a number of these Guardsmen have even chosen to return as contractors in order to continue their life-saving mission.
The most-deployed NDARNG Battalion, NDNG’s 1st Battalion, 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, has served on nine overseas deployments since the GWOT began 10 years ago. Serving in groups ranging from 25 to about 150 soldiers, they have increased the security and contributed greatly to the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as contributing to peacekeeping operations in Kosovo. Many have stepped up to volunteer for these missions, which demonstrate the commitment and dedication of ND soldiers.
N.D. airmen continue to serve in the GWOT daily from Fargo deploying to locations around the globe.
Since the attacks of 9/11, 12 North Dakota Guardsmen have lost their lives serving in the Global War on Terrorism. They’re among the 24 with North Dakota ties who have died in the fight. Many more have been injured, whether they have lost a limb or had a less visible injury, such as hearing loss or Traumatic Brain Injury. Their sacrifices, and that of their families, will never be forgotten.
In North Dakota specifically, the North Dakota Memorial to the Fallen in the Global War on Terrorism was built in remembrance of the service members who lost their lives since the September 11, 2001, attacks. The memorial honors service members with strong ties to North Dakota. It was dedicated on Sept. 11, 2009, by recognizing 21 service members who had lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, there are a total of 24 fallen military service members with strong connections to the state of North Dakota. Each service member has their name etched on the memorial.
When our brave servicemen and women put on the uniform, they put their lives on the line, and some pay the ultimate price so we can be free, former governor, now Senator John Hoeven said. This memorial honors those patriots who have served and sacrificed for our state and nation, and pays tribute to the families and friends who continue to mourn their loss. We will never forget the incredible sacrifice they have made on our behalf.
Currently, the NDNG has about 175 North Dakota Guardsmen mobilized outside of the state in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
We continue to stand ready to defend this great nation against enemies both foreign and domestic. It is our honor and duty as we stand committed a decade later to our country, state and community, said Sprynczynatyk.