I was hungover when the phone rang.
The night before, I’d been partying with my fraternity brothers, so I answered and immediately hung up. Despite hanging up the call, the rings came once more, so I answered.
“Benjamin!” The voice was frantic on the other end. “Turn on the TV now!”
“Mooooommmmm,” I groaned. “It’s, like, super early. What do you want?”
My roommate echoed my sentiments from his bed, but my mother’s frenzied voice continued to climb in pitch. “Turn on the TV!”
I climbed down from my loft after throwing my old Nokia phone into a recliner. My mom continued to ask if I’d turned on the TV, her voice muffled in the recliner cushion. Grabbing the remote, I turned on the TV and moved the phone to my ear. I said something but stopped. One of the World Trade Centers in New York was smoking and on fire.
I read the scrolling news feed quickly, then said, “Looks like a plane accidentally ran into a tower in New York. What’s the big deal?”
Before my mother could say anything, I watched another plane slam into the second tower, creating a sunburnt orange explosion. My jaw went slack, and I let the phone slide from my face while I heard my mom gasp on the other end. Then I ran down the hallway screaming for everyone to wake up and turn on the news.
By September 25, 2001, I would be on a flight to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, and exactly two years after the attacks, I would find myself in Afghanistan hunting for members of the Taliban and al-Qaida.
I could see the black smoke plumes rising from the small, triangle-shaped base as we began our descent. Moments earlier we’d been zipping through valleys while door gunners fired heavy machine guns into the sides of mountains, a process known as “clear by fire.” Taliban and al-Qaida in the area were notorious for…