| || |
I've often reflected on the choices I've made since September 11. Growing up in the city, I always knew what it meant to be a New Yorker, but I really had no clue what it meant to be an American. I think, like most people, I was too preoccupied with the daily grind.
September 11 was a painful wake-up call to world events for me. Before that day, I had struggled with the decision of whether or not to join the military. It was a step I had been avoiding for seven years. Over and over again, I would ask myself the same question: Is it the right choice?
After witnessing the horrible events of 9/11 from a pier just across the river from Manhattan, my decision was made. No longer did my interests come first. A terrorist organization attacked my city and my country. I had to take action.
Joining the United States Coast Guard was my way of taking a stand. All five armed services play a vital role in protecting the United States, but the Coast Guard protects our home shores — it starts here and ends here. That was part of why it appealed so much to me.
I vividly remember joining my first unit in the town of Ketchikan, Alaska, population: 14,000. In the New York City, I would see that many people riding the "7" train during an average morning rush hour!
The difference between New York and Ketchikan is like night and day, literally. Due to the northern latitude, it stays light in Ketchikan past midnight. The town is also known as the "rain and salmon capitol of North America" with an average of 13.5 feet of rainfall and a few million tons of salmon catches each year.
But differences between New York City and Alaska living are small compared to the difference between life on land and life at sea. On the water, my "typical" day keeps me very busy. I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and stand an eight-hour QMOW watch, which involves navigating the ship's course from the bridge. That is the central focus of my day and the only part that is fairly predictable.
The rest varies greatly. I might be taking part in law enforcement or damage control training drills, or engaged in some less-than-glamorous ship cleaning duties. With over 70 men on a 213-foot ship, nobody ever really complains about keeping things clean.
Still, all of us on board find time to unwind, either by watching a movie or e-mailing loved ones. And music always helps get your mind off feeling homesick or seasick from the 10 to 30 foot swells (just imagine a roller coaster that never stops).
Fear of the unknown never really had the chance to settle in for me because training was so long and hard. But I have had moments to reflect on my decision to join the military, such as when our Company Commander took time every night before "Taps" to teach us the Coast Guard's Core Values: Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty. Listening to his stories of soldiers and sailors that lost their lives in years gone by reminded me that we will always have to defend our country against aggressors.
Because of him, I had an epiphany the night we earned our "colors" (the privilege to carry our company flag while marching). At a secluded beach on a cold and late February night, he pointed to the sea and shared with us the reason why we have to do our duty. "It's for them that you risk your life everyday, because we are here to help and defend when no one else can or will," he said. His words struck a chord within me. From that point on I felt an even greater urgency to finish my training so I could get out to the fleet and do my part, my duty.
Although time spent out at sea is hard, I've never felt that any of my duties and chores were done in vain. As more time goes by, I'll attain more skills and take on new roles that promise anything but boring or typical days.As a by-product of 9/11, I can't help but stand a little taller when I salute our national flag every morning while listening to the national anthem. Driving across this beautiful land from New York to Alaska, and going out to sea to protect our borders has given me a deeper appreciation of what it means to be an American. My family, friends and country support my decision and efforts to serve. This is for them as much as it is for me. "Semper Paratus: Always Ready."
Share your thoughts in You Tell Us.
Read The Next Portrait
09.11 Remembered Main