Americans and the world were profoundly affected by the terrorist attacks on our country on Sept. 11, 2001.
The tragic loss of life and the violence perpetrated that terrible day left us heartbroken. But it also stirred many Americans to action and service. That service, as in previous generations, came at a price.
I remember so clearly that Tuesday morning as I watched it unfold on television. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach and the wind knocked out of me. As the days and weeks followed, the pain and sadness grew stronger, the images of that day replaying over and over in my head. I was determined to do something, and that fall 22 years ago, my grief, anger and fear began to be eclipsed by a profound sense of patriotism.
Service to others and support of the brave men and women who raised their hand to defend our country became a call to action for me. My heart broke for the families of the almost 3,000 lost on 9/11, and service and volunteerism through what became the Gary Sinise Foundation was the current of healing that gave me strength and has kept me going all these years.
America’s armed response to the outrage of 9/11 began on Oct. 7, 2001, when combat operations started in Afghanistan. Each year, this date marks an appropriate moment to pause from our daily lives to take stock and reflect.
In what became known as the global war on terror, 4,431 Americans would lose their lives in Afghanistan and 2,354 in Iraq. The total number of wounded still staggers me: 52,153. In all, some 1.9 million American service members deployed in those two wars.
Behind the statistics are real people: not just the individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice or suffered life-changing injuries, but also their families and friends.
It has been the honor of my lifetime to travel across the world in support of our troops, visiting U.S. military bases and hospitals to lift spirits and deliver a message of gratitude from the American people.
I have been privileged to meet so many young heroes, but two of them epitomize not just the sacrifice of so many of the 9/11 generation but also their resilience and indomitable spirit, their determination not just to survive but to thrive and keep giving back.