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A day full of anxiety: recounting 9/11

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Master Sgt. Bradley Gatson, 341st Security Forces Group arming use of force superintendent, joined the U.S. Air Force out of desire to serve his country after witnessing the events of 9/11. He experienced the attack via radio and television broadcast during in-school suspension and since that day, the last 20 years of his military career was shaped and driven by those moments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tristan Truesdell)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- On the day of 9/11, I was a junior in high school. Specifically, I was in in-school suspension for skipping a class the day prior.

I was on a bad path and didn’t really have a lot of aspirations or discipline in my life. Most classrooms back then had the old, round TVs attached to the wall; however, in the suspension room we only had a radio.

On the radio, reports came in about two commercial aircraft crashing in to the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

I was furious – this was the first time in my life I remember being passionate about the nation and being an American. I wanted and needed to know everything I could.

I didn’t come from a military family or background. I knew nothing about war or terrorists organizations, but that day I just knew the United States had been attacked by a foreign country and war was imminent.

I was confident the U.S. would retaliate, but had no idea that same fight would last 20 years. Even as a kid I knew 9/11 was going to be a significant event.

What was next? Schools? Us? We were almost afraid to even go outside, not knowing if something else was going to happen. The whole country was on guard.

I was trying to be the cool kid, brushing off what was unfolding and pretending I wasn’t nervous. On the inside, though, I was worried about future attacks and what it would mean for the U.S.

Was it China? Russia? Could we get hit with missiles next? Nukes? Who knew? The day was filled with anxiety.

It was the first time I took my future seriously. I was no longer worried about party plans on summer break. I was planning my future, just as I’m sure teenagers were doing after Pearl Harbor was attacked back in World War II.

It’s a feeling you can’t fully understand until you’ve felt the unnerving uncertainty, wondering when the next attack would be.

The week following 9/11, I was in my recruiter’s office signing up for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test – or ASVAB – to determine my qualification for jobs in the U.S. Air Force.

Six months later, I was in the Delayed Entry Program and set to join immediately following my high school graduation.

The events from 9/11 has essentially shaped my entire adult life. Even though I was a thousand miles away from ground zero, the last 20 years of my life have revolved around that moment in time.

Hard times build strong nations, and ours became unstoppable.
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