Soldiers of TF Bronco reflect on 9/11 a decade later
For the last 10 years the war in Afghanistan has continued, with new a generation of Soldiers coming to the front lines to challenge the insurgency. On the 10th Anniversary of the events which occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, Soldiers from 3 Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Bronco, reflect on how they were affected on that day and how it feels to be a part of the conflict which still rages 10 years later.
“When the attacks happened on 9/11, of course I never thought I’d come to Afghanistan to fight in the war 10 years later,” said U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Whitney Cumber, a Washington native, who was thirteen at the time of the attacks.
Cumber serves as a platoon leader in Charlie Company, 325th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd BCT, 25th ID, TF Bronco. Her memory of the attacks involves a childhood friend, Asia Cottom, who was one of the youngest lost during the 9/11 attacks. Cottom, then 11 years old, was on the plane which crashed into the Pentagon. Cumber and her friends were young, but she remembers understanding the fact that America was about to go to war.
“I thought the war was going to happen on American soil,” recalls Cumber. “I lived in D.C. and remember seeing the smoke rising from the Pentagon. I knew we were under attack and I thought the war was beginning right then.”
Cumber remembers attending her friend’s funeral.
“So many people came to the funeral, even the town Mayor,” she said, “None of us could believe it. Not only was Asia gone, but she had been killed in a terrorist attack. It was so crazy to try and understand.”
Now, 10 years later, Cumber helps to mend American Soldiers and Afghans injured on the battlefield, in her job as a medical officer.
“Sometimes it gets hard, and I wonder why we have to keep fighting against this enemy that never seems to go away,” said Cumber. “But then I just think of Asia and the fact that she never got to live her life, she was only 11. I think about her parents on the day of her funeral and I remember how sad they were. And it helps me to remember what it is all for and why we fight and I can continue to put one foot in front of the other.”
Canandaigua, N.Y., native, U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Bradley, was serving in the New York National Guard when he heard the news that the towers had been attacked.
“At the time I was a specialist and all me and my buddies wanted to do was get over here and destroy the entire insurgency network,” Bradley said.
Now, he is on his fourth combat tour.
“We have taken out Saddam Hussein, killed many of the Al Queida leaders and now have killed Osama Bin Laden. We can stay here forever (eliminating) insurgents,” said Bradley. “We have done a lot in 10 years, but I personally feel we can begin our draw down and say that our dedication over the last 10 years has been a success.”
Many soldiers who serve in Afghanistan today also served in some capacity at Ground Zero directly after the attacks. These Soldiers are haunted by what they experienced in the aftermath.
“I served as security at Ground Zero while the fire fighters and volunteers conducted recovery,” said U.S. Army Capt. Paul Whelan, currently with 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 25th ID, TF Bronco, but was part of the New York guard when he served at Ground Zero. “It was very surreal. Every time a victim was recovered, they would ring a bell. I will always remember the sound of that bell echoing in the darkness as I stood there guarding Ground Zero into the night.”
Despite the time that has passed, Whelan is still answering the call to eliminate terrorism 10 years later.
“I was there then and now I’ve come halfway around the world to continue to try and do my part to eliminate insurgency,” he said.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Wolf was a volunteer fireman from Hershey, Penn., when he heard of the attacks. Although he saw his share of sorrow, and things he is hesitant to discuss, what sticks with him is the way the American people came together during tragedy.
“At 7 a.m. (the morning after the attacks) I left and stopped at [a local store] where a customer recognized my fire gear and asked if I was heading to one of the sites,” said Wolf. “When I informed her I was, she contacted the local radio station and bought a few cartons of smokes and two cases of soda. The radio station made a public announcement and within an hour the entire bed of my pickup was filled with non-alcoholic drinks. I had to stop on interstate 78 at a truck stop for gas and the fuel attendant made an announcement over the intercom and truck drivers came from everywhere and filled the rest of my truck with flashlights, batteries, tools, gloves and gum. They basically cleaned out the truck stop.”
Wolf was also instructed to make a stop at the truck stop’s sister station in New Jersey where the bed of his truck was filled with ice to keep the drinks cold. At the New Jersey turn pike he received a hug from the toll booth attendant and was waved through without paying the toll.
When Wolf arrived on site he and the other volunteers worked for days.
“I don’t know exactly how long I was there, but it seemed like years,” he said.
After days of serving at Ground Zero, a police officer approached Wolf and told him he was not looking to good and to go home and see his family.
“As I crossed over the George Washington Bridge, heading home, I started to cry,” recalls Wolf. “It just rushed over me and I couldn’t control it. I had to stop several times on the way because I couldn’t see to drive.”
Wolf decided then to join the service and fight against what had caused so much destruction and pain. Wolf is now on his second combat tour.
As one decade passes after the events of 9/11, the memories of that day are still clear in the minds of Americans. For the soldiers who experienced it first hand, all share the same sentiment and express it time and time again...”We will never forget.”
Article by Combined Joint Task Force 1 - Afghanistan