JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas — In a speech at the Cooper Union in New York City on Feb. 27, 1860, President Abraham Lincoln said, “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”
He called to all who could hear to not be afraid to do their duty to defend the nation against those who threatened the gift of freedom. We would not be afraid. We would defend. And we did, engaging in a war that ultimately preserved our nation.
One hundred forty-one years later, on Sept. 11, 2001, some threatened our nation in the most appalling manner. The words of President Lincoln again rang loudly in our hearts like no other time in 141 years. This was our call to duty.
Do you remember that day? If someone would ask me what I did two days ago, I would have to think hard. Most of the time I cannot remember, but I remember 9/11.
I was a military training instructor in Air Force Basic Military Training. The night before the 11th, I remember talking with my trainees about the importance of being prepared. I remember telling them that our mission was to train and be ready. Several hours later I shipped them to the warrior week encampment.
On Sept. 11, I woke up to a cup of coffee and the early morning news. Then I saw this airplane flying too close toward the Twin Towers. All of a sudden, the aircraft hit one of the towers. Then, another aircraft, and the letters on the TV clearly noted, “America Under Attack!”
I did not know what to do. “Is this really happening?” I thought to myself, and then the phone rang.
“Sergeant LugoSantiago?” the voice asked.
“Yes, this is Sergeant LugoSantiago” I answered. “Who’s this?”
“Sir, you need to report to duty immediately, then pick up your trainees. You will get the whole brief once you get in.”
I don’t ever recall getting in my uniform so quickly. I still recall the monologue while I was driving. I reported to work, then went to pick up my trainees. As soon as I arrived to the warrior week encampment, I made eye contact with my dorm chief.
“Dorm chief, form the trainees on this line,” I said to her. “We’re leaving! Make it quick!”
She answered, “Yes sir … proceeding sir!”
As I had the trainees lined up, counting them and calling their names one by one, I told them the news. Recalling the conversation we had the night before and thinking about her family in New York, one of the element leaders, trying her hardest to contain her tears, said, “Sir, the mission has changed.”
Her words echo ‘til this day. “The mission has changed.”
We mobilized our armed forces to find the people who tried to hurt us. The mission changed indeed.
A little more than 10 years later, on Dec. 15, 2011, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke at a ceremony to mark the end of the U.S mission in Iraq. He noted that more than 1 million service members served in Iraq since 2003. Of those, nearly 4,500 died and more than 30,000 were wounded.
In Afghanistan, several thousand troops continue to serve. As of March 31, the United States had approximately 86,692 military personnel “boots on the ground” in Afghanistan. Their courage in responding to the call of duty is what our nation will remember and study for generations to come. My gratitude is to them.
The mission changed, but the resolve and spirit of the American warrior did not. Our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Coastguardsmen took on this mission to find these people and those who harbor them, daring to the end to do their duty so freedom could ring.
Our military families also took on an enduring mission. They did not sign papers enlisting them, but every thought and sorrow was a clear sign they were our silent warriors. They, too, dared to do their duty, so freedom could ring in every corner of our nation.
This coming Sept. 11, I will remember, and you should too. But more importantly, all of us should spend time with our families and friends and recount our own stories, lest we forget how others threatened us but our resolve never wavered.
“He who has done his best for his own time has lived for all times.” -Johann von Schiller