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9/11’s Impact on Military Families

When we think about September 11, 2001, we think about the brave firefighters and policemen in New York City, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. We think about those who lost their lives in the attacks. We think about their families. We also think about the brave men and women who were sent out to war in the aftermath. However, one group often goes unnoticed: Military families.

Military families are often seen saying sorrowful goodbyes to their loved ones and joyful hellos at reunions after a tour. After 9/11, the military family became more prominent. Members were photographed embracing their loved ones coming back from a rough deployment. They were seen tying yellow ribbons around trees to honor those in the armed forces. They formed many organizations to help deal with the pain. Most importantly, they had the utmost respect for those who went off to war to protect our nation after that horrible day. Military families are the ones who stand by the homefront, the silent heroes at home. They’re also the ones who deal with the aftermath of 9/11, worrying, praying and hoping for the best. They’re the ones who keep life going on a daily basis, while their loved ones are away. They’re also the ones who put on a brave face in times of despair. These are the wives, husbands, mothers, daughters, sons, fathers, brothers and sisters of service men and women all over the world. They’re heroes in their own special way.

As the daughter of a retired United States Marine Corps Colonel, I can say that ten years ago, my world was completely turned around. Back when 9/11 happened, my dad was in the USMC reserves as a Lieutenant Colonel. I was just a little fifth grader who already didn’t get to see her father much, just because he was always working as a civilian.

You see, military life is nothing new to me. I was used to not seeing my dad for long periods of time when he was on active duty, just because his deployments became second nature. However, after 9/11, everything changed. My dad got his orders in January 2002, and he was set to fly out to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina a few weeks after that.

After he shipped out, the military sent him all over the world. My father’s been to Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti, Africa, Poland, and Qatar, among other places. All those places he went to spanned over a period of roughly eight years. That, if anything, was even harder for me to deal with, along with my brother, who is three years younger than me.

During his deployment, his “home” base was down at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. My family did not move down with him, staying in Pennsylvania. My family was going to move, but then in 2005, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. He was scheduled for leave when she was diagnosed, so that made everything easier since he was able to come home. My dad missed much more than her appointments, treatments, and other cancer-related things. He missed a very large chunk of my childhood, and that of my brother . He missed tennis matches, fencing tournaments, chorus concerts, band concerts, big milestones like 13th birthdays and 16th birthdays.  He even missed out on the bond that my brother, mother, and I formed in his absence.

As a “military brat,” you learn to deal with one of your parents being gone for long periods of time. Sure, we got to visit him in Tampa, and even got to go to his fancy promotion ceremony when he reached the rank of Colonel, but from 2002-2010, I didn’t really have a father figure, and neither did my brother. That was rough, but after 9/11, it became the norm for many military families like mine, and for families whose loved ones were enlisted.

Of course, I’m not alone. I interviewed Sarah Hernandez, senior at Penn State Harrisburg, about her life post 9/11. Like me, she is also a “Marine brat,” but dealt with more of the effects of 9/11 on her family because she lived at Camp Pendleton, which is the largest military base on the West Coast. Living on base is something many military families adapt to, and after 9/11, security was heightened on every single base. Pendleton in particular was seen as a “target” due to its size.

Immediately following the attacks, she told me that all of the students at her school that lived on base were sent home before school was let out. Camp Pendleton went on lockdown. She and her family sat and watched the television, and kept receiving phone calls from all of her relatives, because they knew what 9/11 meant for her father, then a USMC captain.

After 9/11, she noted that Pendleton seemed busier than usual, with whispers of war. Soon after that, her dad was deployed on the first wave to Afghanistan. After that, he came home, but was then sent to Iraq on two different tours. This was something else many military families had to endure, with the constant uncertainty of how long their loved one would be home, and where they would go next.

Another impact that 9/11 had on military families was how everybody interacted with their loved one when they came back from their tour. When soldiers come back, either from combat zones or war zones in general, many return with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, which can leave many families torn apart because their loved one is not who they once were. Since 9/11, cases of PTSD have spiked. These brave men and women have seen things that nobody should ever have to see, and when they return home to their families, they’re often fundamentally changed. It’s tougher on military families to deal with this, because they don’t know how to help.

In Sarah’s case, her family has grown closer, because she said, “I think my dad especially saw the importance of his family, not to say he didn’t before, but I think being away in a war zone definitely puts a lot into perspective.” They also tend to interact differently, just because she said it was hard to get used to her family being a whole again.

” I basically went through Junior High and my freshman year of high school without my dad around, and because of that, i feel that is a big reason why my dad and I aren’t as close as we were before he left to the middle east. My brother started elementary school without my dad around, and my mom became Mom AND Dad for a good three years.”

Her dad is still serving in the USMC, as a Lieutenant Colonel, having just come back from Okinawa, Japan with her mother and younger brother.

So many military families have had similar experiences, and are still going through this today. 9/11 completely changed the dynamics of the military family, and gave it a stronger bond. While it might be strange at first to be reunited, the importance of family never changes. Sometimes it’s the best thing a service member needs when they return home from their tour overseas, courtesy of 9/11.

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About the Author

Meghin Moore

Meghin is a senior majoring in Broadcast Journalism and minoring in English. She transferred from the Harrisburg campus as a junior to finish out her schooling at University Park. She has a passion for all things music, fashion, art, and food. She's a Pennsylvania native (born outside of Pittsburgh, and lived in Lebanon for 11 years), but resides in Virginia when she's not in school, and has moved a total of ten times in her life, mostly thanks to the military.

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