On September 11, 2001, I was in the middle of a creative writing class when the teacher stopped to turn on the large box TV that was mounted in the corner of the classroom. Soon, multiple classes filed in to watch the tragedy of 9/11 unfold. We watched as the news reported that one of the Twin Towers had been hit by an aircraft. Then, we watched live as the second tower was hit by another plane, and the two iconic NYC buildings collapsed.

I remember watching the news and seeing more and more firefighters and other first responders running toward the disaster site, knowing that they were running head-on into danger and putting any fear of death aside as they searched for life in the rubble of the Twin Towers. I remember thinking if I were a firefighter, I would run in the other direction because I would not want to die. The idea of putting my life at risk to save and serve others was something that I could not comprehend at that time in my life.

As a Veteran, I realize this may sound odd. I know many who served over the last 19 years did so because the experiences of 9/11 sparked their drive to serve their country. I’d love to give you some heroic story about how 9/11 sparked that same drive in me, but honestly, I was a young teenager who cared about cute clothes, hanging out with friends, and enjoying life. Some people join because they have a desire to serve. Others, like myself, join because they realize their life isn’t going where they want, and they need change.

My love to serve came while I was in the Navy. We performed search-and-rescue missions, medical evacuations, and aerial firefighting. Our missions did not always have happy endings, like when a rescue mission would turn into a recovery mission. Those were tough to take, but the successful missions made it all worthwhile. Knowing our work just saved another life was such an incredible feeling. As an adult, I now understand those firefighters and first responders who ran toward disaster despite the danger and potential loss.

9/11 was a day full of loss with attacks on the Pentagon, Twin Towers, and those who lost their lives on Flight 93. It is important that on this day, we remember the brave individuals who risked their lives to save others. The World Trade Center had the largest number of lives lost at 2,763 people, which includes 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York City police officers, and 37 Port Authority police officers who risked their lives to save others. We shall never forget their courage.