"Where were you when...?"
It seems that every generation has a variation of that sentence. The end of that question normally mentions a significant moment in history.
For some people in this community, that question used to go, "where were you when Kennedy was assassinated" or "where were you when Challenger exploded?"
On Sunday, the question on many people's minds in this community came down to five words -- "where were you on 9/11?" Fifteen years ago, that day marked one of the darkest moments in American history. In the end, it reshaped everything we once took for granted in this country.
The terrorist attacks against the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., claimed the lives of more than 3,000 Americans as well as others from other nations. This was in addition to the passengers onboard US Flight 93, who died when terrorists onboard that jet deliberately crashed it into a field near a small town in Pennsylvania.
To this day, it's not known where those hijackers planned to crash that fourth aircraft. The most likely targets were the White House and U.S. Capitol, both of which had symbolic value, although some believe they were aiming for one of the nuclear power plants along the Eastern seaboard.
Those who died that day were innocent men, women and children. The man who gave the order to murder them was Osama bin Laden. In his twisted mind, those people merely represented targets with which he could lash out in pure hatred.
Fifteen years ago, I was stationed at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., when reports of the first attack came across the radio. I still remember one of my airmen running into my office reporting that one of the Twin Towers was struck by an aircraft.
At that moment, I honestly through he was pulling a cruel prank. Then I turned on the television and saw smoke rising from the tower.
My gut sank.
I had stepped away from the television for a minute when the second tower was hit. When that news broke, I knew deep down this was no accident.
By the time I learned about the attack on the Pentagon, I knew this country was at war. At one point that day, I honestly thought the United States was heading toward a nuclear confrontation against those who perpetrated those attacks.
I also remember calling my wife asking her to pull our children out of school and bring them home. At that point, I wasn't sure what else was going to get attacked and whether what we saw that day was just one set of attacks or if further ones were coming.
To a point, America had lost a sense of innocence that day. The things we once took for granted have changed drastically.
It used to be that my parents could walk with me through an airport terminal and give me a hug right before I stepped onto my waiting flight. Fifteen years ago, people in this community could gain access to Mountain Home Air Force Base without a whole lot of fuss so they could meet with their friends or play golf.
Before 9/11, we tended to treat people differently than we do now. Your religious beliefs, for example, really didn't seem to draw extra scrutiny, concern or criticism back then.
Today, if someone wears a specific type of head scarf or conceals their face with a certain piece of clothing, they might be met with disrespect or watch others shy away from them.
I'm sure these types of reactions have children today a bit confused. After all, talking to them about 9/11 has roughly the same meaning as World War II did when I was in school. It was something we read about in history books.
Today, we have students in high school who weren't even born when the Twin Towers fell and the western side of the Pentagon was left in ruin. They don't understand the importance of the memorial in Shanksville, Pa., which marks the site where US Flight 93 crashed after the passengers tried in vain to seize control of the aircraft from the terrorists that hijacked it.
All that these children know is that this country hasn't seen a moment of peace in more than 15 years. I can't think of another moment in U.S. or world history where a country has remained at a continuous state of combat.
Come to think of it, this nation hasn't seen a moment of actual peace since Operation Desert Storm began in 1991. After that war, our nation's military continued to fly combat missions over Iraq during Operation North Watch and Operation Southern Watch, which both came to an end after Sept. 11, 2001.
For 15 years, this country has continued to wage war against the spread of global terrorism. There was a brief period of time after the 9/11 attacks, between October 2001 and March 2003, when terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban were both on the run against the mounting pressure of U.S. forces in the air and on the ground.
But that's when the United States divided its attention against driving al-Qaeda and the Taliban into extinction by engaging in combat operations to eliminate the Iraqi military threat. To make things even worse, our current president ordered that the U.S. military scale back its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan well before both countries were ready to continue on their own.
The result has been the disaster we are continuing to reap. We now have groups like ISIS, which is putting the genocide in Rwanda and the killing fields in Cambodia under the dictator Pol Pot to shame.
Of course, ISIS claims it's conducting all of these attacks in the name of God.
I'm guessing God is furious at what people like this are doing while invoking his name. I'm pretty sure that the unwarranted slaughter and torture of innocent men, women and children isn't what he had in mind.
So why do we continue to pause once a year on Sept. 11 to reflect on something that happened 15 years ago? I believe part of that is based on a quote from author George Santayana, who once said, "Those who do not know history's mistakes are doomed to repeat them."
There's plenty of truth in that statement, especially when it comes to global terrorism. Simply put, this is a war this country can't afford to lose.
Because if we lose this war, the question future generations might ask is, "where were you when the United States fell?"
-- Brian S. Orban