September 8, 2011
9/11 Tribute in Light

Ten years have passed since the United States suffered tragedy on September 11th, but the implications continue to ripple throughout American discourse and international politics. As we mourned during the weeks and months that followed the attack, Dan Rather wrote, “if any good has come out of such evil, it is this: we have been brought closer together. We have come to focus on what we share rather than what sets us apart.”

While bin Laden’s attack wanted to isolate America, he failed. 9/11 unified Americans and galvanized America’s role in the world. Hope sprang from that tragic day—nous sommes tous americains—we are all Americans declared the French newspaper Le Monde. Because of 9/11, the world became more united in common cause against those that use fear to coerce and repression to stifle.   

To be sure, 9/11 marked a turning point in contemporary foreign policy that identifies weak or failing states as the primary strategic threat to international peace and security. With this outlook, the United States is actively exporting security by working with nearly every country on the planet to train, equip, and professionalize security forces. There have been interruptions along the way, but the hope that sprang from 9/11 can be found in Afghanistan today. We find it among our comrades, our allies, and our Afghan partners. We see it on the police recruits who write their names for the first time and we see it in Afghan women training to be pilots. Hope for a better future can be found in Afghanistan today.

While leading international efforts here, the United States is not alone preventing Afghanistan from becoming a base for terrorism. We serve with traditional partners like Aussies, Brits, and Canadians, but also new partners like Mongolians, Jordanians, and Georgians. As a sign of hope, there are even trainers from post-conflict Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia. We all wear a NATO patch on our sleeve. The strength of this partnership is evident in the success of training, equipping, fielding, and partnering with the 305,000-strong Afghan National Security Force.

All told, there are service members from 48 countries working with Afghans. With few exceptions, none have suffered the pains of terrorism equal to the United States, but all are driven by a common purpose that sprang from 9/11—hope for a safer world by giving Afghans an opportunity for the security they deserve, the prosperity they desire and a future they determine for themselves.

For those of us in uniform on this day, 9/11 is significant. That day brought us to Afghanistan and separated us from the ones we love. Our personal sacrifices are tangible—missed birthdays, uncelebrated holidays, and never-played games with our children. Our work remains challenging—long days, never-ending weeks, and timeless months.

We know that the time lost in Afghanistan can never be reclaimed, but we do not resent it. We left our families and comforts of the United States to give Afghans the tools to rebuild their society, train their police, and equip their army. Far from complete, progress is visible in the recovering war-torn society. All around Kabul, billboards are springing up that advertise cell phones, vitamin drinks, and banking. Entrepreneurs are extending their Friday bazaar tables to five-day-a- week small businesses fueling a minor, if not important economic boom in places like Lashkar Gah affectionately known as Lash Vegas. And most importantly, for the many parents who serve here, millions of children are back in school. Small successes like these are reminders that working together, we can overcome hardship.

As we mourn those that died in the terrorist attacks, let us all remember 9/11 is also a day that renewed hope. The day renewed hope that being American is enough to bridge difference. The day renewed hope that the world needs the United States. And the day renewed hope that the international community is able to give war-torn societies like Afghanistan the opportunity for a better life.  

Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV., United States Army, has served as the commander of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan since November 2009. 

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