As we look back upon the events that occurred on this fateful day that left an indelible mark on the world, Sept. 11, 2001, it is very hard to believe that it’s been 13 years since the largest attack on American soil took over 3,000 lives in New York City, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Penn.
The news today is filled with reports of terror attacks around the world, as well as continued threats to the US and its allies, both here and abroad.
Many Homeland Security staffers and national experts have indicated that they are very concerned about the recent spate of horrific events occurring worldwide, and that the “bad guys” (or whatever we choose to call them) are focusing on the US, its allies and other western interests.
One term that keeps coming to the surface is “homegrown violent extremists” who have western ties, US and European passports, and are fighting overseas. The amount of people fitting into that definition is growing at an alarming rate. The definition may vary a bit from agency to agency, but the fact remains that there are those among us that want to wreak havoc on our way of life.
The sad fact is, violent extremism is not a new phenomenon. My very first deployment was to the Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19, 1995, where Timothy McVeigh killed 169 innocent people (including infants and children) at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City.
British author Aldous Huxley so eloquently stated in “Brave New Word” that “Eternal vigilance is not only the price of liberty; eternal vigilance is the price of human decency.”
This has been quoted over the years as simply, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance” that is the basic tenet of what we really need to adhere to today.
I submit to each and every one of you that we must be vigilant, but not be vigilantes; we must be aware of what does and does not look right. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has brought up the phrase “If you see something, say something.” And I couldn’t agree more.
Many of the news commentators the last several weeks (regardless of the network) have brought up again and again that the threat posed to U.S. interests here and overseas are in some level of peril from violent extremists of any type. I concur that self-radicalization has been growing at an alarming rate.
The next event that hurts our society may not be a Sept. 11 type of attack—it may be smaller, more frequent or larger than Sept. 11, 2001. The noise and chatter we have all heard on the news recently is certainly alarming. There have been over 75 “active shooter” type events since the Sandy Hook massacre that occurred in Connecticut in December 2012. We don’t know what we don’t know, except that the time around any anniversary is a time for caution and increased awareness.
I have trained many people, agencies and organizations since Sept. 11 on awareness, training and “collecting and connecting the dots.” We must be right 100 percent of the time; the bad guys only have to be right once.
Take the time now to pause and remember those that gave their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, and never forget. Let us not forget their sacrifices that their families feel every day. We owe it to them to never forget.
Two weeks before Sept. 11, 2001, I was attending training at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md., and I took a quick side trip on the weekend to the Gettysburg national monument in Pennsylvania. There, I copied the Gettysburg address into a small pocket notebook.
I actually carried that notebook with me while I was deployed to Ground Zero for nearly 100 days, and as I looked at the speech, a sentence stuck in my mind that, to this day, comes back to me over and over again. “That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, Penn., Nov. 19, 1863.
Take the time to remember those people who came before us, who fought for our freedom, and remember their ultimate sacrifice. We can never forget.
Michael J. Fagel