Originally published at https://www.mensjournal.com on September 10, 2021.
By Jack Haworth and Mike Sarraille
2,996 Americans lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters––each soul left behind devastated family members, friends, and a nation shook to its core. It’s been 20 years since 9/11, but the memory and aftermath of that horrific event still echo today. Those reminders have only intensified following our recent withdrawal from Afghanistan and the tragic loss of 13 American service members.
On his new podcast, Truth + Tribe, retired U.S. Navy SEAL Mike Sarraille hosted four retired Tier One soldiers––Eric Ballester, Brent Tucker, Glenn Cowan, and Rich Diviney––for an impassioned and thoughtful conversation about the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Having deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism over 50 combined times during the past 20 years, these Special Forces operators are among the most experienced combat veterans.
During this two-part episode, the group discussed their emotions on 9/11 and their first combat experience in its aftermath. They also analyze their personal experience in the War on Terror, the long-term impacts of the conflict, and what lessons can be learned from the past two decades.
Below are a few key excerpts from the episode, but head over to the Truth + Tribe podcast for the complete conversation.
Listen Now: September 11: 20 Year Later (Part 1)
Listen Now: September 11: 20 Year Later (Part 2)
The Emotions of 9/11 and How That Day Impacted Their Lives:
“If you’d asked me on September 10, ‘Hey, are you ever going to join the military?’ I’d say, ‘No, I love those guys, but I’m going to grow up in the family business feed store and carry bags of feed out for the rest of my life.'”
“9/11 struck a chord in me, and for days I had this flood of emotions; I was just enraged. My decision to join the military was fairly simple, as I knew I didn’t want to live a life with any regrets. I was 20 years old, and I signed up on September 23, 2001.”
“On 9/11, I had three emotions that probably sound disjointed: curiosity, anger, and pride. Part of my emotion was curiosity. ‘Where are we going? What’s this going to look like?’ I was angry because of what happened, but I got angrier when I saw the video of people celebrating the attacks. When I saw the towers come down, it was more sadness, but I got angry when I saw people celebrating it. But there was also overwhelming pride with how the nation pulled together. We all had this common purpose, and I had tremendous pride in that.”
“On 9/11, I knew I made the right decision for my career. I was just crazy motivated, and from there on, it was a straight shot to get to the pointiest part of the military apparatus. Through that loss, I think it clarified what my purpose was going to be for the next 20 years. I knew I was going to be in this fight for 20 years because that’s what I’ve been put on this Earth to do.”
“I had just finished my final stage of infantry officer training and received a posting to a Western Canadian regiment called the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. I was on my way out to my first conventional infantry platoon that I was to take command of. I woke up on the morning of September 11 and watched the towers fall. I was already on my way to the start of my military career, but it just so happened that my battalion was Canada’s rapid reaction battalion to a NATO task force. So I was in the right time, the right place to get involved very early on in Afghanistan and the global War on Terror.”
The First Deployments in the Aftermath of 9/11
“I think that it comes down to love of the brothers that you’re serving with. I can remember that feeling of my boss getting shot and my friend getting shot. And knowing that I’m the person that needs to do something to turn the tide. I have to medically evacuate them and I have to strike danger close, and I have to get this enemy to fall back.
I can still put myself back in that same feeling. Your body shuts down and your sympathetic nervous system is kicking in. I remember just becoming hyper-focused, and the only thing I wanted to do was take the pressure off my brothers. It was the clearest, most vivid thing that I’ve ever felt. And then that also made me feel like this is exactly where I belong. This is why I’ve been working so hard to make it to this level.”
“We were a part of a few major maneuvers on the back end of Operation Anaconda. I just remember being awe-inspired by the sheer power of the U.S. Air Force and just their overall ability to mobilize and move. In the early deployments, I just wanted to rush to the sound of gunfire, but that’s not always the best way to approach things. So I developed better tactical patience in terms of applying a little more logical thought to some problems.”
“It was a lot of fun deploying with your buddy. You get into different scenarios and gunfights and problems gone wrong that you’ve got to solve on the fly to get yourself out of them. It was hard and challenging, but it was fun. I looked forward to deployment when the pager went off, and we got bugged out.”
“In the early days, I feel like everyone kind of had the same mentality as far as, ‘We’re going to miss the war, we’re going to miss the war.’ 20 years later, we look back and we think, we didn’t miss the war. Who would have ever thought we were going to be there for 20 years.”
“My first deployment to Afghanistan; it was the Wild West. It was a very violent deployment, but it was everything I was looking for. It sounds almost immature, and I was then, but I loved it.”
“Everything from the time I joined the military, to what I trained for, to the times I actually got to carry it out, it was everything that I was searching for and trying to fulfill. But if someone came on September 10 and said, ‘Hey, you’re going to go to Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria. You’re going to jump out of planes at 30,000 feet. You’re going to dive on Drägers.’ You know, I’d look at him and be like, ‘You got the wrong Brent Tucker.’ You can’t even fathom that on September 10 as a civilian.”
“Special Operators pride ourselves on precision, logical thought, and understanding exactly what we need to do at the moment. People would ask me, ‘Were you angry? Did you hate these people?’ But we have to be real careful, hate is much like love and both emotions disable logical thinking.”
“We knew we were in the long game and you have to think about energy and how you actually play the long game––it’s not through these very powerful emotions. It’s okay to have these emotions, but make sure they are understood and worked through before you get out there.”